The World Cup is the perfect time to talk about the natural history of hummingbirds.
Dr. Zusi remains one of the all-time greatest comparative anatomists in ornithology. He has written entire books describing the insides of these hovering creatures. In one, he methodically documented 132 different muscles within the hummingbird—from its eyes to its weak hindlimbs.
Although he retired 20 years ago, Dr. Zusi continues to publish. We interrupted his unpaid research to ask him to ruminate on soccer and hummingbirds. He emailed these thoughts:
Hummers use their feet only for sitting and scratching their heads.
Soccer players use their feet for everything except scratching their heads.
Hummers sometimes fly backwards.
Soccer players sometimes run backwards.
Hummers are aggressive and fight other hummingbirds.
Soccer players are aggressive and fight other soccer players.
Hummers protect their food flowers from other hummers, not always successfully.
Soccer players protect their net from other teams, not always successfully.
Hummingbirds prosper by laying only two eggs.
Soccer games often prosper with only two goals.
Dr. Zusi has a dry sense of humor. His protégé and successor Dr. Gary Graves said Zusi had him laughing non-stop when the two participated in a 1986 expedition to Brazil. They were part of a team documenting the fauna of the Rio Xingu, a tributary of the Amazon. During a span of 7 weeks, they ate armadillo soup, bathed with piranhas, and found more than 260 species of birds, including the spectacular hummer Lophornis gouldii .
These bird specimens now reside in the collections of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Sao Paulo and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Our curators and collection managers will preserve them in perpetuity for future researchers to study.
Graham Zusi, if you’re too busy to see this collection while you’re in Brazil, come visit us in Washington, D.C. Also, your Grandfather and Grandmother Zusi are proud of you. Good luck!
If you think scoring soccer players are impressive in slow motion, watch this high-speed video of flying hummingbirds shot by engineering students from Stanford University.
Learn how to support hummingbirds and their habitat at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
You can also discover more about the important role of pollinators in The Ornaments of Life, a new book co-authored by Smithsonian botanist, Dr. W. John Kress.
By Tina Tennessen, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History