All hummingbirds flap their wings at incredible speeds. Even the slowest of hummingbirds are known for their incredible flapping abilities.
One of the hummingbird gifts is that flutter their wings at a remarkable 80 times per second! They do not flap their wings, they rotate them in a figure 8, which makes it even more remarkable! That also enables them to go backwards in the air and to hover in one spot.
Most birds produce lift only when they flap their wings downwards, but hummingbirds can do so on the upstroke too by inverting their wings. Insects achieve a similar feat by inverting their wings at the base, but a hummingbird is constrained by its skeleton, so the mechanism for its maneuver has been unknown until now.
In most birds, the wrist collapses on the upstroke to draw the wing towards the body as it is raised. Hummingbirds have adapted the same movements to rotate their wings instead. “The usual mechanism makes the upstroke aerodynamically invisible,” says Tyson Hedrick, a biologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who led the study. “The hummingbirds’ mechanism makes the upstroke aerodynamically effective.”
The smaller the hummingbird, the faster it flaps its wings. Ruby-throated hummingbird wings beat about 50 times a second. A rufous hummingbird’s wings beat as fast as 52 to 62 wingbeats per second. The giant hummingbird of the Andes, about the same length as a cardinal, hums at 12 beats a second. The bee hummingbird of Cuba, the smallest bird on earth at only 2 inches from bill tip to tail tip, buzzes along at 80 beats per seconds.
On average, North American hummingbird varieties flap their wings 53 times per second. Shockingly, that’s not even the fastest hummingbird, though most hummingbirds flap somewhere around this number of flaps per minute.
The fastest hummingbird variety is the Anna’s Hummingbird, which is known to flap its wings up to 90 times per second. The Anna’s Hummingbird flaps its wings so quickly that it is the 15th fastest bird based on speed alone and competes against falcons, eagles, and other large predators.
The speed of a hummingbird depends on how fast it can flap its wings. As a result, the Anna’s Hummingbird is the fastest, with speeds reaching as much as 61 mph. To put that in in perspective, the Anna’s Hummingbird can fly 385 times its body weight in one second.
Hummingbirds flap their wings even faster during the courtship display dives used by the males of some species. Moreover, hummingbirds can fly very fast, routinely attaining speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour. They triple that speed during those amazing courtship display dives.
The advent of high-speed motion photography has allowed scientists to accurately measure and study wing movements that are way too fast for the human eye to see.
The work is “well done and advances our knowledge of hummingbird flight”, says Chris Clark, a biologist who studies hummingbirds at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “By using X-ray video, they could directly see how the bones of the wing move during flapping.”