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Nature & Science

5 Fun Facts About Hummingbirds Flying Backwards

Image Source: Ondrej Prosicky / Shutterstock

You may have some general knowledge about Hummingbirds, such as their small size and rapid wing beats producing a humming sound. Hummingbirds can move their wings anywhere from eight to 200 times per second! These vibrant birds dart and dive, and their tongues move in and out of a flower up to twenty times per second, resembling a science lab pipette sucking up liquid. But there’s more to these amazing little birds—here are five fun facts about how hummingbirds can fly backwards!

Are they the only backwards flying birds?

Herons, warblers, and egrets are some of the birds that can fly backwards, but only briefly and usually as a form of self-defense when predators are attacking them. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, can fly backwards effortlessly and sustain it for long periods of time. This ability allows them to move from flower to flower with ease, collecting nectar more efficiently than if they could only fly forwards like other birds. Additionally, hummingbirds use this skill to evade hawks, frogs, spiders, and other predators by quickly flying backwards out of harm’s way.

Hummingbirds wings are made for the job!

Hummingbirds have uniquely designed wings that attach to the sternum in a distinctive ball-and-socket joint. This unique anatomy allows the flexibility of wing movement required for their backwards flight. This ball and socket joint is known as a rotator cuff, similar to that in human shoulders. The evolution of this feature allows hummingbirds to drink nectar from flowers more easily and rapidly. With their high metabolism, this ability helps them gather as much food as possible. Flying backwards enables them to retract their beak from the flower efficiently, allowing them to maintain their energy levels.

Figure 8 flight!

When flying, hummingbirds move their wings in a forward to backward motion, creating a Figure 8 pattern in the air. This technique is different from that of other birds, which primarily flap their wings to lift off the ground. Hummingbirds use their tail feathers to provide lift and thrust in addition to their Figure 8 motion, allowing them to move in all directions, including flying backwards!

Backwards flying and breathing

Recent studies have delved deeper into the respiratory effects of hummingbirds in backwards flight compared to forward flight. Scientists observed that the birds use a more upright posture during backwards flight. Further testing revealed no difference in metabolism between forward and backward flying when feeding. It turns out that both manners of flight consume the same amount of energy—how efficient!

Flying backwards takes heart!

Maneuvering in the sky forwards and backwards requires a powerful motor, and the hummingbird is well-equipped for it. On average, a hummingbird’s heart rate exceeds 1,200 beats per minute! This accelerated heart rate ensures enough oxygen is supplied to keep pace with their backwards flying dynamics. While scientists aren’t certain of the exact speed at which hummingbirds can fly backward, they estimate it to be around 5 to 10 miles per hour—quite a difference from their forward top speed of around 30–35 miles per hour!

Hummingbirds are at the top of the list for their acrobatic flying abilities. Their adeptness at flying backwards is a marvel of adaptation and truly spectacular to witness. Despite their small size, these agile avian wonders are undeniably mighty!

Image Source: Ondrej Prosicky / Shutterstock

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