The animal on the cover of Better, Faster, Lighter Java is a hummingbird. There are over 300 hummingbird species, all found only in the New World. All these species are easily identifiable by their long,tubular bills and iridescent feathers. The iridescence is a refraction effect that can be seen only when light is shining on the feathers at certain angles. Hummingbirds range in size from the bee hummingbird, which, measuring 2 inches long and weighing less than an ounce, is the smallest of all birds, to the great hummingbird, which measures about 8.5 inches long.
Hummingbirds are so named because of the humming noise made by their rapidly moving wings. On average, hummingbirds flap their wings 50 times a second; some species can flap as many as 200 times per second. The wings are flexible at the shoulder and, unlike most birds, they are propelled on the upstroke as well as the
downstroke. Because of this flexibility, hummingbirds can hover, fly right or left, backward, and upside down. Most hummingbirds have tiny feet that are used only for perching, never for walking. Hummingbirds will fly to travel even a few inches.
Hummingbirds expend a great deal of energy,and they need to feed every 10 minutes or so. They feed on nectar, for sugar, and small insects, for protein. Their long, tapered bills enable them to retrieve nectar from even the deepest flower. Pollen accumulates on the head and neck of hummingbirds while they gather nectar. They then transfer this pollen to other flowers and thus play an important role in plant reproduction.
Hummingbirds appear frequently in Native American legends and mythology, often as representatives of the sun. According to some folk beliefs, they can bring love.
Since Europeans first spotted these beautiful, colorful little birds, they have often appeared in the art and literature of the Old World, as well.