How Hummingbirds Fly: The Structure of a Flight

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures that possess remarkable flying abilities. They are masters of flight, but there is still a lot to learn about how they do it. These tiny birds, during normal flights, can flap their wings 25 to 80 times per second (depending on the hummingbird breed), which is too fast for the human eye to see. However, the hummingbird’s wing beat is so fast that they create a humming sound as they fly (this is how they got their name).

There are many characteristics of the hummingbird flight, including how high and how far, flying backward, forward, diving, and making quick directional changes. So, let’s get down to business: how do they fly? Hummingbirds are masters of flight, but there is still a lot to learn about them. So, let us look at their incredible characteristics in more detail!

How Hummingbirds Fly: The Structure of a Flight

The wings of a hummingbird are made up of two different types of feathers. The long, narrow ones that make the outer part are called primary flight feathers, and the shorter, broader inner-wing is known as secondary flight feathers.

Hummingbirds have been observed to fly in loops using their tail for stability. With their physiology, they possess the ability to fly forward, backward, side to side, and hover and perform quick directional changes in seconds. Basically, they are able to fly in whichever direction they want.

A hummingbird has two sets of muscles that they use to make the up and down motion: The pectoralis is a muscle, which attaches to the humerus bone in their arm, and is used for flapping the wings upward (upstroke). The pectoralis muscle in these little creatures makes up approximately 25% of their body mass.

The second set of muscles near their chest is called the supracoracoideus, responsible for the downstroke. This muscle and bone structure is only found in hummingbirds. In addition, a hummingbird’s wing is very long and slender, which allows them to fly faster than other birds. Hummingbirds also have a special shoulder joint.

How Do Hummingbirds Hover?

Hummingbirds use their wings to generate rotational lift. They have a unique joint at the shoulder that lets them move their wings in a figure-eight motion providing power on the upstroke and downstroke, canceling the effects of gravity.

The structure of the shoulder joint is what allows them to fly in any direction and hover. The figure-eight motion is the key to the hummingbirds’ ability to hover, which they need when feeding at flowers or other nectar sources. But without their tail movements or tail feathers, they would not have such ability.

What Are Hummingbirds Doing With Their Tails During Flight?

While hovering, the hummingbird is making continued adjustments with the angle of their wings and their tail. The tail can be flat or fan out into an upside-down V shape which stabilizes horizontal and vertical movements providing balance and better aerodynamics.

Performing these adjustments allows hummingbirds to maintain perfect flight during varying weather conditions such as wind gusts. Also, the ability to make these adjustments allows them to perform some very acrobatic flying. Not just for our entertainment but for catching insects and avoiding attacks from bees and wasps.

How High and Far Can Hummingbirds Fly?

Some hummingbirds are capable of flying to heights up to 13000 feet (in certain areas like the Andes). But considering just the North American hummingbirds, they have been known to fly as high as 500 feet. Normally hummingbirds will fly low so they can locate feeding locations.

During migration, their limitations of flight are tested. Flying approximately 500 miles non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico is a remarkable accomplishment. Imagine how tiring that must be! Research has shown that even on a regular day, they will fly an average of 23 miles, almost a whole marathon.

Why is it That Hummingbirds Can Fly Backwards?

“Backwards?” you might be wondering; “Yes!” hummingbird’s flight is versatile enough to allow them to fly in whichever direction they choose. However, hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backward for unlimited time. Not possible for any other bird species.

How do hummingbirds fly backward? As described above, they use their tail feathers to provide lift and thrust, just like a helicopter rotor blade would. Along with their figure-eight motion and tail maneuvers, hummingbirds are afforded the ability to fly backward.

How Fast Are Hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds don’t use flapping motions like typical birds so that they can fly up to 30 mph during their forward flight. But in the course of mating displays, hummingbirds are able to dive at up to 60 mph.

If you think that is impressive, consider this, while diving at this high rate of speed, they are still able to make quick changes of direction or make an immediate rise by spreading out their wings to their sides. So even at these speeds, they are one of the most highly maneuverable creatures in the air!

Can a Hummingbird Stop Flying?

Stop? The answer to this question is yes and no (depending on the meaning of “stop”).

Yes, hummingbirds stop and rest while they perch on a twig or a feeder. They also sleep while perching. So perching means they are not flying.

But on the other hand, No, they do not stop flying during motion. In other words, they can’t glide or move without wing movement.

The After Knowledge

Hummingbirds are a marvel of the natural world. Hummingbirds can indeed do something no other bird species on Earth can- fly backwards for unlimited time. This ability is because their wings, which beat at a rate of 80 times per second, allow them to hover in one spot and change direction quickly without losing altitude like other species.

With this agility and ability to fly for hours with little rest, they have no difficulty finding food or escaping predators. They may be small, but there’s nothing tiny about these amazing avian creatures! The next time you see one hovering in your yard or flying fast at your window, take a moment to appreciate how amazing they really are!

They have the agility that makes other birds jealous.

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