Fast-flying hummingbirds need to eat about half their body weight in nectar and bugs each day merely to stay alive. That is a lot of food for any animal.
Thanks to their incredible metabolism and wings, these tiny birds are capable of some amazing feats. This is the only bird species that fly backward, but do hummingbirds also fly upside down?
I will teach you all about the flight mechanics of these incredible birds and answer this question and more.
Do Hummingbirds Fly Upside Down
Hummingbirds are the only species of birds that can fly upside down and backwards. They have a unique ball and socket joint in their wings which allows them to rotate 180 degrees to fly straight up, down, backwards and upside down. Hummingbirds have 30 percent of their body mass in their wings which gives them a powerful downstroke and upstroke as they fly.
How Do Hummingbirds Fly Upside Down
Hummingbird flight mechanics are unlike any other bird. However, they do resemble other creatures on earth; specifically, they can fly like some insects. For a normal bird, all of the wing’s energy goes into flapping up and down.
Using the horizontal plane, birds’ power is all about the lift they get on the wings’ downstroke. A bird flies by pushing its wings against the air to stay aloft.
Additionally, all birds, including hummingbirds, have aerodynamic feathers and uniquely hollow, lightweight bones.
Unlike other avian species, hummingbirds have a ball and socket shoulder joint. This unique joint allows the bird to rotate its wings 180 degrees.
As a result, they can change directions mid-flight. Furthermore, hummingbirds have very slender wings with low surface tension. This feature means they don’t need to work very hard to cut through the air.
Hummingbirds have thirty percent of their body mass in their wings, and most of that is muscle. Instead of just having a powerful downstroke to stay up in the air, hummingbirds have a powerful upstroke as well.
Resultantly, these birds have more control over how they move in the air, which is how they can fly backward, up, down, sideways, and even upside down.
All the food hummingbirds consume goes into beating their wings eight to two hundred times in a second. The fast flaps mean the bird can move up to sixty miles per hour with almost no need to build up speed.
A hummingbird could likely beat the world’s fastest car from 0-60, though it wouldn’t be able to keep up on a quarter-mile track. Unfortunately, the only time these little birds go so fast is during courtship dives.
Moreover, hummingbirds tend to fly either low to the ground or close to the tops of trees. Rather than expending energy on getting up into the sky as many species do, they spend their time looking for food and staying relatively near cover.
Why Do Hummingbirds Fly Upside Down
Hummingbirds fly upside down because they need to be more flexible than many other bird species. Not only are they in constant danger from predators, but their tiny bodies consume huge quantities of food to stay aloft.
Using advanced aerial acrobatics is a natural solution to their needs.
Whiffling is an evasive maneuver used by many birds while they are in flight. This technique helps some species decrease their velocity.
Additionally, it helps a bird descend rapidly so they can land. This is useful for finding a safe place to hide when there is danger in the sky, like larger predatory birds.
Tiny hummingbirds and ravens are among the only species who can manage this trick.
That makes a lot of sense because hummingbirds are so small that most creatures looking for a meal could easily snatch them up if not for their incredible speed and maneuverability.
As for ravens, they are natural enemies with owls, who go out of their way to injure and kill the corvids on sight.
When you are in constant danger in your natural environment, evolving special techniques to stay safe is necessary.
However, it is only the hummingbirds who also use this trick to feed. If you had to eat every ten to fifteen minutes to survive, you’d probably find clever ways to get a meal as well.
Can A Hummingbird Hover Upside Down
Not only can a hummingbird hover, but it can do so upside down. Thanks to their unique wing mechanics, a hummingbird can hover indefinitely. For the most part, it doesn’t matter to the bird whether it is upside down or not.
Although they may get a slight birdie head rush with the blood flowing to their brains in this position, a hummingbird’s body is a highly tuned and efficient system.
Moreover, they don’t stay that way for very long. Doubtless, it would look weird to the bird if it were just hovering upside down for entertainment.
However, most of the time, hummingbirds spend upside down is while they are eating. That means their tiny head is beak-deep in a flower as they drink nectar.
Since flowers are mostly symmetrical, it doesn’t look any different at a different angle.
When they are done drinking, the bird will wing it backward and usually turn itself upright again in a couple of seconds.
This is particularly useful if a flower is tucked in somewhere the bird couldn’t otherwise maneuver, and it is at an odd angle.
Although they do not need to hover indefinitely, hummingbirds can hover for a lot longer than you might expect.
These clever birds can hover in the same spot for up to fifty minutes. That is a very long time when you need to eat every ten minutes.
Hopefully, any member of this species sticking around that long is at least hovering by a hummingbird feeder.
Bonus Fact: Many people believe hummingbirds use their beaks like a straw to suck up nectar, but they actually use their long tongues.
As they eat, hummingbirds lick ten to fifteen times a second, which must seem very slow by their standards.
Helpful Tips To Know About Hummingbirds Flying Upside Down
Often brightly colored like jewels, hummingbirds are swift and agile fliers. There’s no direction or angle a hummingbird can’t handle in the air, and they change it up in a heartbeat.
Here are more helpful tips to know about hummingbirds flying upside down.
- As much as ninety percent of a hummingbird’s flight time, whether they are upside down or not, is spent hovering so they can feed.
- Although they can fly up to sixty mph, most of the time, these intense little birds are only flying about twenty to forty-five miles per hour.
- Hummingbirds are the only vertebrate animals capable of hovering in flight. However, they aren’t the only creatures on earth who know this useful trick. Many insects can hover as well.
Hummingbirds are a riot of natural mechanics and incredibly adapted systems. They can fly upside down, hover, and rotate their wings further than any other species of bird.
A hummingbirds’ ball and socket wing joint can move as far as an owl’s head. The powerful downstroke combined with outstanding rotation, light bones, thin wings, and aerodynamic feathers makes these tiny creatures the kings of trick flying.
The only downside to being the best avian fliers around is that they need a stupendous amount of fuel to power those aerobatics, so they spend their entire lives eating.