How hummingbirds hover, Hummingbird flight patterns and design

How Do Hummingbirds Hover?

July 9, 2007 by  
Filed under Features

Hummingbirds are a bird species well known for their amazing aerobatic skills. You may see a hummingbird hovering at a flower having a drink of nectar. Its wings are a misty blur either side of it. In an instant, it might dart forward, sideways, backwards or even upside down, wings beating furiously at 50 to 80, or even more, beats per second. The number of beats per second varies according to the size and species of the bird. It has been reported that a hummingbird can travel at speeds of 30 to 60 miles per hour (50 to 100 km/h) and then abruptly stop and hover in one position. How do they accomplish these amazing aerobatic feats?

The hummingbird is designed in a marvelous and unique way. It has well-developed muscles which are fastened to its rather prominent breastbone and this makes up 25 to 30 percent of its body weight. It has rigid wings from shoulder to wingtip. This allows for power in both the upward and downward beats of the hummingbird’s wings. Other birds have power only in the downward stroke of their wings. The result of this is that the hummingbird has both lift and propulsion. In addition to this, the shoulder joint allows a rotation of 180 degrees. This enables their wings to pivot both forward and backward, something like oars on a rowing boat. They are truly well-equipped to carry out these awesome aerobatics. Other birds do have the ability to hover, however, there is no disputing the fact that hummingbirds are the experts at this. Also, no other bird can rise vertically and fly in reverse. The hummingbird does all this, frequently changing direction in a split second.

All this skill comes in very handy when it comes to mating season. The male hummingbird will put on an absolutely dazzling display in an effort to gain the approval of his chosen mate. For example, the North American ruby-throated hummingbird will rise quite high up into the air and then launch himself into a power dive, down in front of his prospective mate. As he reaches her, he rises up again in a U-shaped formation. All the while he ensures that she gets the full benefit of the light reflecting off his iridescent feathers. How could she resist?

All things considered, the fascinating hummingbird, although the smallest in the world, is certainly worth seeing in its natural habitat – so try and spot one in your garden.

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