Fact: Hummingbirds are the only birds known to be capable of flying backwards for any length of time or distance without relying on the wind.
Hummingbirds (family Trochilidae) are very much like living helicopters. They can fly forward, backward, left, right, diagonally, and even upside down. They can also hover at high speeds. Perhaps most importantly, they’re the only birds known to be capable of doing this. Other birds can hover or fly backwards, too, but they are aided by the wind. Certain kingfisher varieties can also reportedly fly backwards with minimal air support, but not as long as the hummingbird can.
Unlike most birds that fly by flapping their wings up and down to generate lift, hummingbirds stroke their wings forward and back, due to their unique muscle and wing structure. Their wings pivot about 180° at their shoulders, basically tracing a horizontal figure 8 with each motion. The smallest hummingbirds do this at a rate of 80 beats per second.
Unsurprisingly, hummingbirds have an extremely high metabolic rate. In fact, depending on the species, hummingbirds consume anywhere between half and double their weight’s worth of floral nectar each day just to survive. Some experts even say that the smallest hummingbird species have the highest metabolic rate of any animal on the planet.
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Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.