Learning With: ‘The Hummingbird as Warrior: Evolution of a Fierce and Furious Beak’

Learning With: ‘The Hummingbird as Warrior: Evolution of a Fierce and Furious Beak’

Before reading the article:

What do you know about hummingbirds? Have you ever seen one?

Quickly, think of some adjectives to describe hummingbirds.

Did your list include words like: colorful, sweet, melodious, graceful, small? How about fierce? Or aggressive? What about downright mean?

Next, watch the ScienceTake video “How the Hummingbird Bill Evolved for Battle,” above and respond to the following questions:

What did you notice about hummingbirds in this video? What stood out or surprised you about their behavior? What questions do you have about what is going on in this video? What more would you like to know?

Now, read the article, “The Hummingbird as Warrior: Evolution of a Fierce and Furious Beak,” and answer the following questions:

1. Why does James Gorman, the author, start the article with a poem? And why does he say “it’s best to avoid most poetry” about hummingbirds?

2. Why have do poets and scientists have a “blind spot” about the hummingbirds in nature? How did the Aztecs differ in their understanding of the colorful bird?

3. How have hummingbird beaks evolved over time? What are the benefits of their design?

4. What are some of the highlights of the 10 years of research on hummingbirds by Alejandro Rico-Guevara and his colleagues at the University of California?

5. What are some of the ways the hummingbird uses its bill to fight off rival males?

6. What other aspects of the hummingbird’s design and behavior are being studied by scientists? Which did you find most interesting?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

— What did you learn about hummingbirds from the article? What was most fascinating? Does the video and article make you more curious about hummingbirds — or birds in general? What would you like to know more about?

— What have been your experiences with birds? Do you have a favorite type? Does the article make you view birds differently? If so, how?

— Mr. Gorman writes:

The Aztecs loved war, and they loved the beauty of the birds as well. It seems they didn’t find any contradiction in the marriage of beauty and bloodthirsty aggression.

Do you agree with the Aztec’s view of the hummingbird? Can you think of other animals that combine beauty and fierceness?

— The article begins with a poem by John Vance Cheney and ends with one by D.H. Lawrence. Which do you think is more accurate? What is your favorite line in either, and why?

— Write an original poem about hummingbirds. It can be of any length or style and can celebrate or disapprove of the beautiful but complicated bird?