Date: November 19, 2015
Source: University of Faculty of Science British Columbia
Brute strength is surprisingly important to the ability of hummingbirds to outmaneuver rivals for nectar and evade predators, according to new University of British Columbia research published in eLife.
An intensive study of 20 Anna's hummingbirds, Calypte anna, led by the University of British Columbia, revealed that birds with the highest muscle capacity are able to accelerate faster and make more demanding, complex turns.
"We had expected wing morphology and body mass to have more of an influence on maneuverability so were surprised that muscle capacity is so important," says Doug Altshuler, lead author from the University of British Columbia.
The scientists will repeat the experiments with other tropical species that have greater variation in body mass and wing morphology. These field studies will help determine whether the findings are common to other hummingbirds.
The muscle capacity of the birds was determined by attaching a necklace of weighted beads to each bird. Hummingbirds are able to fly directly upwards, and their maximum weight-lifting ability could be measured by how many of the beads they were able to lift. A two-hour solo flight of each bird was filmed to record and analyse their aerial displays.
The research could find an application in the development of autonomous vehicles.