What Happens When You Put a Hummingbird in a Wind Tunnel? | Deep Look


Hummingbirds are ravenous. These tiniest of birds have the highest metabolism of any warm blooded animal. And they’re fueled by flower nectar. To get it, they’ve developed skills no other
birds have. They can fly backwards and hover for long
stretches of time. Their beaks stay steady like a surgeon’s scalpel, but their wings beat furiously, up to 80 times a second. And they can hover in wind. In rain even. Most of these birds weigh less than a nickel. You’d think they’d get blown away. So how do they pull it off? Scientists at UC Berkeley brought hummingbirds
into the lab for a closer view. First, the wild birds had to be trained, one
at a time, to feed from an artificial flower filled with sugar water. Hummingbird wings buzz like helicopter blades
– too fast for the naked eye to see. But by recording them with a high-speed camera
– at 1000 frames a second — scientists can see the individual wing movements. They
can actually see how hovering works. Most birds flap their wings up and down to
fly. But hummingbirds move their wings backward and forward in a figure eight movement, like
oars. This generates lift during the upstroke and
the downstroke, which helps hummingbirds stay stable, instead of bobbing up and down. But how would a hummingbird respond when the
weather gets rough? To find out, the scientists moved the hummingbird
into a wind tunnel and began recording. The wind is coming from the right side of
t he cage – up to 20 miles per hour. The hummingbird must fly into the wind to
get the sugar water. This high-speed footage shows how it turns
and twists its body in the direction of the air flow, while using its wings for control
and its tail like a rudder to stay steady. Even rain can’t stop the hummingbird from
feeding. See how the bird shakes off drops of water
from its body, like a wet dog? The birds can’t afford not to eat. They
have to consume their weight in nectar every day to survive. And the flowers need them too. As they eat,
hummingbirds spread pollen from plant to plant. It’s a symbiosis – a two-way street between
a bird and a flower. These tiny flying machines have evolved
ways to hold up their end of the bargain, rain, wind or shine.

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