However, when he searched the literature he was disappointed to find that there were hardly any studies of this particular behaviour. 'This was a bit surprising given that they are doing this all the time', Sapir says, explaining that the tiny aviators visit flowers to feed once every 2 min.
'I thought that this was an interesting topic to learn how they are doing it and what the consequences are for their metabolism', Sapir says, so he and his postdoc advisor, Robert Dudley, set about measuring the flight movements and metabolism of reversing hummingbirds and they publish their discovery that reversing is much cheaper than hovering flight and no more costly than forward flight for hummingbirds in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
Capturing five Anna's hummingbirds at a feeder located just inside a University of California Berkeley laboratory window, Sapir trained the birds to fly in a wind tunnel by tricking the birds into feeding from a syringe of sucrose disguised as a flower. He then filmed each bird as it hovered to feed before returning to the perch when satisfied.
Knowing that the bird would return to the feeder again soon, Sapir turned on the air flow when the hummingbird arrived, directing the 3 m s flow so that the bird had to fly backwards against the wind to remain stationary at the 'flower'. Then he repeated the experiment with the syringe feeder rotated through 180 deg while the hummingbird flew forward into the wind to stay in place.
Analysing the three flight styles, Sapir recalls that there were clear differences between forward and backward flight. The hummingbirds' body posture became much more upright as they flew backward, forcing them to bend their heads more to insert their beaks into the simulated flower. In addition, the reversing birds reduced the inclination of the plane of the wing beat so that it became more horizontal. And when Sapir analysed the wing beat frequency, he found that the birds were beating their wings at 43.8 Hz, instead of the 39.7 Hz that they use while flying forward. 'That is quite a lot for hummingbirds because they hardly change their wing beat frequency', explains Sapir.
Repeating the experiments while recording the birds' oxygen consumption rates, Sapir says, 'We expected that we would find high or intermediate values for metabolism during backward flight because the bird has an upright body position and this means that they have a higher drag. Also, the birds use backward flight frequently, but not all the time, so we assumed that it would not be more efficient in terms of the flight mechanics compared with forward flight.' However, Sapir was surprised to discover that instead of being more costly, backward flight was as cheap as forward flight and 20% more efficient than hovering. And when Sapir gently increased the wind flow from 0 m s in 1.5 m s steps for a single bird, he found that flight was cheapest at speeds of 3 m s and above, although the bird was unable to fly backwards faster than 4.5 m s.
Describing hummingbirds as insects trapped in a bird's body, Sapir adds that the fluttering flight of hummingbirds has more in common with insects than with their feathered cousins and he is keen to find out whether other hovering animals such as small songbirds and nectar-feeding bats can reverse too.
IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/20/3603.abstract
REFERENCE: Sapir, N. and Dudley, R. (2012). Backward flight in hummingbirds employs unique kinematic adjustments and entails low metabolic cost. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 3603-3611.
This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT email@example.com
Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering