Hummingbirds are one of the most agile fliersin the animal kingdom - they can fly in anydirection and regularly perform aerial acrobaticsto evade predators and maintain their demanding diets.Maneuverability -- the ability to change eitherspeed or direction on the fly -- is a hallmarkof powered flight in animals.Researchers are now trying to figure outhow maneuverability--this interplay between feathers and muscles,weight and air -- evolved in birdswith the aid of hundreds of hummingbirds.The hummingbird family consists of337 different species,with a variety of body masses and wing shapes.To understand how these variations affect flight,researchers observed the flight maneuversof 200 hummingbirds from 25 species.Each bird was placed in a test chamber for 30 minuteswhile their flight was tracked by a computer.The computer recorded the birds’ flightat 200 frames per second and the trackingdata was then analyzed using custom software.The analysis showed that different speciesfavored some maneuvers over others, and wereusually much better at their preferred maneuvers.Larger species tended to have higher maneuverability,in part due to their larger wing sizeand muscle capacity-- not just in relation to smallerspecies but in relation to their bodies as a whole.However, within these species,the heavier hummingbirds tended to havelower maneuverability.Researchers also found that a larger wing
arearelative to body mass enhances a hummingbirdspecies’ acceleration and turning performance.So far, these experiments have only been conductedon hummingbirds, but, in the future, researchershope to branch out to other species.Also on the to-do list is the developmentof small data loggers that can be attachedto birds in the wild, giving researchers insighton how birds use these flight maneuvers intheir day-to-day lives.
Looking over hundreds of flight recordings, researchers gained new insight into what makes hummingbirds so good at fast, agile flight.
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Nguyên Khôi Nguyên
R. Dakin et al., Science 2018
Biodiversity Heritage Library
Kathy & sam
Bart Van Dorp
Roberto De la Parra