Have you ever wondered how hummingbirds manage to slurp up the nectar in a flower so quickly? Rarely do they pause at one flower for longer than a second or two before moving on.
Occasionally we get a glimpse of a long tongue protruding from their bill when they exit the fake flower on a feeder.
But how does that tongue work to enable them to sip so quickly? Initially, it was thought that the tongue was merely a long capillary tube that drew the nectar up through cohesive action of fluid droplets. But that is much too slow a process.
High-speed videography by researchers at the University of Connecticut has revealed that a hummingbird’s tongue expands rapidly from a flattened ribbon inside the bill to a forked pair of open tubes as the tongue is protruded into a feeding tube or flower nectary. The tongue moves in and out of the bill 15 times a second, expanding and compressing as it moves in and out of the bill, and that pumping action is what delivers the nectar to the mouth so rapidly.
A short video illustrates this much better than I can explain it.