How Hummingbirds Hover in Turbulent Winds

In a recently published study, researchers describe how hummingbirds engage in a complex dance in order to hover in turbulent winds. To study how the birds cope with difficult wind conditions, an American-Australian research team led by Sridhar Ravi (RMIT University, Melbourne) and Stacey A. Combes (Harvard University, Boston) subjected the birds to uneven winds in a wind tunnel.

Slow-motion video of the birds in flight revealed a complex choreography involving the wings and tail. To correct for changing winds, the birds adjust the position and motion of each wing independently (while the wings are beating at 40 beats per second, mind you). They’re even able to make adjustments mid-beat. Meanwhile, the tail is moving and opening and closing like an ornamental fan. The research may be useful in the design of drones, which are currently less capable at hovering in turbulence than hummingbirds.