Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.


Within the entire animal kingdom, the hummingbird is the only bird that can fly in all directions. In Latin America, there are 47 species.

Nir sapir , an evolutionary biologist and researcher at the University of Haifa , spent several months sitting on his home’s balcony observing hummingbirds and discovering that they could fly in various directions. Also, the good speed of these small animals caught his attention.

Robert Dudley, from the University of California, carried out research work with the support of Berkeley. This study, focused on the flight of hummingbirds, was carried out with the help of high-speed cameras and oxygen consumption meters.

Up, down, forward and backwards. A flight in all possible directions.

Magenta-throated Woodstar (Calliphlox bryantae) male feeding from flowers at the highlands of Costa Rica

For the study, five captive hummingbirds were used. They were of the Calypte anna, characterized by having a redhead, and their flight was seen as they fed one by one on sugar while the team activated a wind tunnel. In this way, they could control and manipulate the intensity of the artificial breeze, and they observed the behaviour of the animals.

They discovered they were highly intuitive birds because, depending on the force and direction of the air, they used different flight techniques.

The cameras recorded the movement at the same time that the oxygen consumption of the hummingbirds, their posture and the inclination plane of their wings were measured. This last factor was the determinant of the investigation since they concluded that these birds could go forward, backward, up, down or stay in the same place.

Hummingbirds use a lot of energy to fly.

According to Sapir, the most important finding from the study was that flying backwards consumes a similar amount of energy as normal flying. In addition, with the records of the movement cameras, they understood that both activities are more efficient than staying in the same place.

Observing them, they noticed that they fly backwards when they withdraw from a flower they used as a nectar source. At that time, there was not much research regarding hummingbird flight, as Sapir says:

“I watched hummingbirds at a feeder on my balcony and saw them frequently fly backwards. This surprised me a lot considering that they fly backwards all the time, so I decided to study how they do it and what consequences this type of flight has on their metabolism.”

This explains why these very small birds look for flowers to feed on every two minutes. They require a significant energy boost because they have to recover from such an important expense for their bodies.

In addition, it turned out that the resistance they impose on the air is slightly higher compared to forward flight. This, according to Sapir, corresponds to the speed decreasing when they go backwards. The full findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

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