Hummingbirds might actually be a little buggy -- when it comes to their method of flying, that is.
The hovering of a hummingbird is a sight to behold, and it's clear that the tiny birds move in a unique way. Their flying is pretty far afield from the soaring of an Eagle, or even the rapid wing flaps of a sparrow. But according to new research published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, these little birds might be so different from their feathered friends that they actually have more in common with flying insects.
Researchers have created the most detailed 3-D simulation of a hummingbird in flight to date (which you can watch above). They report that the model shows the birds perform aerodynamic tricks to stir up air that are similar to insects' methods.
To create the new model, researchers at Vanderbilt University dabbed nontoxic paint on nine points of a hummingbird's wing. They then took video at a rate of 1,000 frames per second (and from four cameras at once) so they could extract data on the movement of the painted points.
When larger birds fly, they get most of their energy from the downstroke of their wings pushing against the air. But hummingbirds get energy from both the upstroke and the downstroke, rotating their wings and creating tiny vortices of air to power them. As the wings move forward and down, tiny vortices form -- and then merge into a single, larger vortex. The low pressure area this vortex produces gives the hummingbirds their lift.
While insects have wings that look very different from a hummingbird's, many of them -- like dragonflies and mosquitoes -- rely on similar airflow patterns. So the next time you're admiring a hyper hummingbird, just remember what a unique little bird it truly is.