Inhale. Hold your breath. Count to 600. Exhale if you’re still conscious.

Emperor penguins can’t count. They can dive as deep as 200 feet into the ocean, though, and hold their breath for as long as 11 minutes.

Maybe you could be a loon. They can hold out for 5 minutes.

Birds are superior creatures. Their daily lives are based on an assembly of physical attributes far beyond any other animal group, starting with us.

An average hummingbird while perched has a heart rate of 250 beats per minute (bpm). In one year, with that pulse, not even considering the 1,200-bpm flight rate, the bird’s heart has pumped over a billion times.

You and I, with pulse rates of about 70 bpm, have an annual total near 37 million. It would take us more than 27 years to equal the hummer’s annual total.

Hummingbirds have been documented living at least nine years. The beat goes on and on and on.

Some seabird species characteristically lay only one egg per nesting season. The bird invests a great deal in that single egg. It will weigh as much as 20% of the bird’s body weight.

My mom weighed about 110 pounds when I was born. I was not a 22-pound bouncing baby boy.

The marbled godwit is a bird we see as it migrates to nesting habitat sometimes here, more often in North Dakota. It winters on the Mexican coast.

A relative, the bar-tailed godwit, nests in Alaska. Does it winter in Mexico with its cousin? Of course not. It winters in New Zealand. New Zealand! More than 7,000 miles away, which the bird flies nonstop, an eight-day trip.

Why New Zealand? No one knows.

And how does the godwit find New Zealand?

Columbus navigated by using dead reckoning, a series of estimations. Migrating birds are born with precise maps in their brains. They use stars, the moon, and the sun to navigate. They can adjust for wind drift.

Birds can detect the Earth’s magnetic field, both direction and strength. Special brain cells allow them to compare this data to their mental map.

Using a middle-ear receptor, birds can sense extremely small change in atmospheric pressure, change that often precedes a storm.

Birds also are believed to detect the ultra-low-frequency waves known as infrasound. Traveling long distances through the ground, these waves are used for communication by whales and elephants, among other animals.

Infrasounds can be generated by storms more than an hour before tornado formation. A study several years ago led researchers to conclude that birds likely hear the infrasound and sense the approach.

Ornithologists on a research project determined that golden-winged warblers fled hundreds of miles from nesting territory to avoid a storm, returning when skies cleared to the very trees from which they left. The birds flew well before the research team knew the storm was coming. The biologists learned of it from a convenience store TV.

Chickadees here can survive winter temperatures of more than 60 degrees below zero. If the temp tops 105 degrees in July, they survive that, too.

Birds build nests that maintain structural integrity without nails or glue or tools. They make adobe nests and wooden nests and woven nests. In the latter they tie knots. They hatch with plans in their heads.

And birds can fly.

Humans tend to have an exaggerated sense of self.

 

Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at woodduck38@gmail.com. Join his conversation about birds at startribune.com/wingnut.