The Heart of the Matter

by | Sep 10, 2020 | The Sandpiper

Nature itself is a master conserver. The creatures in it are never given more or less than they need. This is exemplified by hearts, organs that vary wildly in size and performance. The largest animal on the planet and the largest animal that ever lived is the Blue Whale. It can reach a length of 98 feet and weigh a much as 190 tons. This kind of massiveness has a heart to match. It weighs 950 pounds, that’s about as much as a Jersey Cow. Even so, it only beats at about 5 to 6 times per minute, 3 while diving. That’s something of a bpm record, but it is so strong, it can be heard 2 miles away. The Cheeta’s heart at rest beats at 120 beats per minute, but in a few seconds, it can rise to 250 in a 70 mph chase. The Octopus has three hearts, 2 to pump blood into the gills, and the other one for everything else. A Giraffe’s heart weighs 24 pounds and is strong enough to pump blood up its 6 foot neck. An Elephant’s heart weighs as much as a toddler and thumps at 60 bpm. An adult horse has a bpm rate of between 36 and 44. Rather slow, considering. But those thoroughbreds that tear up the track at 40 miles an hour can pump out in excess of 200.

The earthworm has a heart that does not beat. It’s blood is pumped by squeezing. The Pigmy Shrew’s heart pumps at 1,200 bpm. That’s about 16 beats per second. The Hummingbird heart rate beats that by throbbing at 1,200. A Frog’s falls between 40 and 60, closer to ours. As for us, Neil Armstrong’s heart beat at 150 bpm when the Eagle landed on the moon. That’s 80% higher than a typical 38 year old man. Contrast that with a well trained athlete who can bring it down to 40. For most of us heartbeats generally range from 60 – 100 bpm, higher if you are in love or reacting to politics.

At the beginning of May, I had a nice surprise, a flock of Cedar Waxwings landed just outside my window and pecked at buds on the Viburnum bushes (I hope they come back to eat the berries). Cedar Waxwings are gregarious, regal looking birds that you’re likely to see in flocks year-round flitting so fast at the tree-tops that it’s hard to get a good look at them. They are medium-sized, soft-grayish brown, with a yellowish wash on the belly, a conspicuous crest, black mask and yellow band at the edge of their tail. Red wax-like tips on their wings give Cedar Waxwings part of their name, and their fondness for cedar berries completes it. Their call is thin lisping and high pitched. Groups of Cedar Waxwings are known as an “ear-full” or a “museum”. Waxwings are found sitting in fruit trees swallowing berries whole. Sometimes a group are observed lined up on a branch passing a berry from one to another all the way down the row. With the increased use of ornamental fruit bearing trees in landscaping, Waxwings are becoming more common in urban areas. Sometimes when berries become over-ripe the birds become tipsy when they ingest them.

Friends who lived down south where the streets were lined with Ash trees sent us news articles every year relating how the birds would gorge on overripe berries and end up fluttering all over the city sidewalks in a drunken stupor. During summer, a large variety of fruits including serviceberry, mulberry, dogwood, and raspberries are their diet which is supplemented with protein-rich insects. When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one and swallow the entire thing at once. Breeding usually begins around June, but may be put off until as late as August possibly dependent on food supply. Female waxwings do almost all the nest building, weaving twigs, grasses, cattail down, blossoms, and similar materials into a bulky cup. Sometimes they save time by stealing nesting materials from other birds’ nests. The clutch size is about 2-6 eggs and they have 1-2 broods, the incubation is done by the female alone, the young are tended by both parents. They range from North to Central America usually nesting in Canada and Northern United States. To encourage them to visit your yard plant fruit bearing trees and bushes, and a water source would be welcome. With so much dire news of birds in danger, It’s nice to know that Waxwings are not endangered and may even be increasing. 

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