We know that a mouse can fit through a hole as narrow as a pencil, but hummingbirds also know how to squeeze through the narrowest holes in their search for food. Now it is finally clear how they do it.
Hummingbirds have two characteristics: they are 7 to 13 cm long, and they are small in size. The larger insect is larger. They can also fly well. They flap their wings quickly, and are therefore able to hang in one place, turn very quickly and even fly backwards. However, they are less able to fold their wings than many other birds. “Unless hummingbirds use another strategy to maneuver through narrow openings, they will not be able to fly through gaps smaller than the width of their wings,” said researcher Mark Badger of the Institute of Bird Research at the University of California, California. University of California, Berkeley.
I’m looking for sugar
But since they can, the question for a long time has been: How? Badger is there with his colleagues, including researcher Catherine McLean, I discovered. Fast birds have two unique ways of crossing gaps that are barely half their wingspan.
“We created a two-part flight arena and wondered how we could train the birds to fly through a 16-square-centimeter gap in the barrier that divides the arena in half. “Then Katherine came up with the brilliant idea of using alternative rewards,” says Badger, who explains that A little sugar solution is added to the critter feeder just in case it can make it back to the feeder across the street to keep the hummingbirds alive, with a wingspan of about 12cm, fluttering back and forth.
Smaller and smaller holes
Once they succeeded, the researchers started making it more difficult. The diameter through which the birds had to pass increased from 16 to 12 to 6 centimeters at the end, half their wingspan. Meanwhile, they photographed the birds’ maneuvers. But that’s when things started: To find out exactly how the hummingbirds did that, Badger wrote a computer program that tracked the position of the bill as they approached and passed through the opening. The wingtips were also positioned to calculate the positions of their wings as they flew through the vent.
This made a lot clear. Hummingbirds used two unique strategies. They hovered briefly in front of the opening to study it before passing sideways. They moved one wing forward while keeping the second wing behind them. They almost formed a cross, still flapping their wings to cross the opening. In the second strategy, they both moved their wings back, close to their bodies, and shot forward like a bullet, beak first. They then immediately moved their wings forward and began flapping again when they were safely through the hole.
More and more self-confidence
How smart hummingbirds are is evident from their approach: at first, when they don’t know exactly how big the hole is, they choose the first, more cautious approach. But once they have done this a few times, they become more confident and shoot across the hole with their beak forward using the second method. Only at the smallest openings, less than their wingspan, did the birds have no choice but to pass through with their wings back to avoid collisions.
With the help of these two strategies, these small hummingbirds are able to fly through small holes in search of food, despite their weak ability to fold their wings. At first they move slowly and cautiously, flying sideways through the hole, but as they become bolder, they simply stick out their beak first. This always goes well. Only once in the experiment did the bird hit the barrier, but it quickly recovered and made a second successful attempt to reach its delicious sugar snack on the other side of the room.
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