Resolution of a paradox: hummingbird flight at high elevation does not come without a cost.
ABSTRACT: Flight at high elevation is energetically demanding because of parallel reductions in air density and oxygen availability. The hovering flight of hummingbirds is one of the most energetically expensive forms of animal locomotion, but hummingbirds are nonetheless abundant at high elevations throughout the Americas. Two mechanisms enhance aerodynamic performance in high-elevation hummingbirds: increase in wing size and wing stroke amplitude during hovering. How do these changes in morphology, kinematics, and physical properties of air combine to influence the aerodynamic power requirements of flight across elevations? Here, we present data on the flight performance of 43 Andean hummingbird species as well as a 76-taxon multilocus molecular phylogeny that served as the historical framework for comparative analyses. Along a 4,000-m elevational transect, hummingbird body mass increased systematically, placing further aerodynamic demands on high-elevation taxa. However, we found that the minimum power requirements for hovering flight remain constant with respect to elevation because hummingbirds compensate sufficiently through increases in wing size and stroke amplitude. Thus, high-elevation hummingbirds are not limited in their capacity for hovering flight despite the challenges imposed by hypobaric environments. Other flight modes including vertical ascent and fast forward flight are more mechanically and energetically demanding, and we accordingly also tested for the maximum power available to hummingbirds by using a load-lifting assay. In contrast to hovering, excess power availability decreased substantially across elevations, thereby reducing the biomechanical potential for more complex flight such as competitive and escape maneuvers.
Project description:The diverse hummingbird family (Trochilidae) has unique adaptations for nectarivory, among which is the ability to sustain hover-feeding. As hummingbirds mainly feed while hovering, it is crucial to maintain this ability throughout the annual cycle-especially during flight-feather moult, in which wing area is reduced. To quantify the aerodynamic characteristics and flow mechanisms of a hummingbird wing throughout the annual cycle, time-accurate aerodynamic loads and flow field measurements were correlated over a dynamically scaled wing model of Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna). We present measurements recorded over a model of a complete wing to evaluate the baseline aerodynamic characteristics and flow mechanisms. We found that the vorticity concentration that had developed from the wing's leading-edge differs from the attached vorticity structure that was typically found over insects' wings; firstly, it is more elongated along the wing chord, and secondly, it encounters high levels of fluctuations rather than a steady vortex. Lift characteristics resemble those of insects; however, a 20% increase in the lift-to-torque ratio was obtained for the hummingbird wing model. Time-accurate aerodynamic loads were also used to evaluate the time-evolution of the specific power required from the flight muscles, and the overall wingbeat power requirements nicely matched previous studies.
Project description:Birds usually moult their feathers in a particular sequence which may incur aerodynamic, physiological and behavioural implications. Among birds, hummingbirds are unique species in their sustained hovering flight. Because hummingbirds frequently hover-feed, they must maintain sufficiently high flight capacities even when moulting their flight feathers. A hummingbird wing consists of 10 primary flight feathers whose absence during moult may strongly affect wing performance. Using dynamic similarity rules, we compared time-accurate aerodynamic loads and flow field measurements over several wing geometries that follow the natural feather moult sequence of Calypte anna, a common hummingbird species in western North America. Our results suggest a drop of more than 20% in lift production during the early stages of the moult sequence in which mid-wing flight feathers are moulted. We also found that the wing's ability to generate lift strongly depended on the morphological integrity of the outer primaries and leading-edge. These findings may explain the evolution of wing morphology and moult attributes. Specifically, the high overlap between adjacent wing feathers, especially at the wing tip, and the slow sequential replacement of the wing feathers result in a relatively small reduction in wing surface area during moult with limited aerodynamic implications. We present power and efficiency analyses for hover flight during moult under several plausible scenarios, suggesting that body mass reduction could be a compensatory mechanism that preserves the energetic costs of hover flight.
Project description:Hummingbirds are the only birds that can sustain hovering. This unique flight behaviour comes, however, at high energetic cost. Based on helicopter and aeroplane design theory, we expect that hummingbird wing aspect ratio (AR), which ranges from about 3.0 to 4.5, determines aerodynamic efficacy. Previous quasi-steady experiments with a wing spinner set-up provide no support for this prediction. To test this more carefully, we compare the quasi-steady hover performance of 26 wings, from 12 hummingbird taxa. We spun the wings at angular velocities and angles of attack that are representative for every species and measured lift and torque more precisely. The power (aerodynamic torque × angular velocity) required to lift weight depends on aerodynamic efficacy, which is measured by the power factor. Our comparative analysis shows that AR has a modest influence on lift and drag forces, as reported earlier, but interspecific differences in power factor are large. During the downstroke, the power required to hover decreases for larger AR wings at the angles of attack at which hummingbirds flap their wings (p < 0.05). Quantitative flow visualization demonstrates that variation in hover power among hummingbird wings is driven by similar stable leading edge vortices that delay stall during the down- and upstroke. A side-by-side aerodynamic performance comparison of hummingbird wings and an advanced micro helicopter rotor shows that they are remarkably similar.
Project description:Aerodynamic performance and energetic savings for flight in ground effect are theoretically maximized during hovering, but have never been directly measured for flying animals. We evaluated flight kinematics, metabolic rates and induced flow velocities for Anna's hummingbirds hovering at heights (relative to wing length R = 5.5 cm) of 0.7R, 0.9R, 1.1R, 1.7R, 2.2R and 8R above a solid surface. Flight at heights less than or equal to 1.1R resulted in significant reductions in the body angle, tail angle, anatomical stroke plane angle, wake-induced velocity, and mechanical and metabolic power expenditures when compared with flight at the control height of 8R. By contrast, stroke plane angle relative to horizontal, wingbeat amplitude and wingbeat frequency were unexpectedly independent of height from ground. Qualitative smoke visualizations suggest that each wing generates a vortex ring during both down- and upstroke. These rings expand upon reaching the ground and present a complex turbulent interaction below the bird's body. Nonetheless, hovering near surfaces results in substantial energetic benefits for hummingbirds, and by inference for all volant taxa that either feed at flowers or otherwise fly close to plant or other surfaces.
Project description:Vertical lifting performance in 67 hummingbird species was studied across a 4000 m elevational gradient. We used the technique of asymptotic load-lifting to elicit maximum sustained muscle power output during loaded hovering flight. Our analysis incorporated direct measurements of maximum sustained load and simultaneous wingbeat kinematics, together with aerodynamic estimates of mass-specific mechanical power output, all within a robust phylogenetic framework for the Trochilidae. We evaluated key statistical factors relevant to estimating slopes for allometric relationships by performing analyses with and without phylogenetic information, and incorporating species-specific measurement error. We further examined allometric relationships at different elevations because this gradient represents a natural experiment for studying physical challenges to animal flight mechanics. Maximum lifting capacity (i.e. vertical force production) declined with elevation, but was either isometric or negatively allometric with respect to both body and muscle mass, depending on elevational occurrence of the corresponding taxa. Maximum relative muscle power output exhibited a negative allometry with respect to muscle mass, supporting theoretical predictions from muscle mechanics.
Project description:Hummingbirds and nectar bats are the only vertebrates that are specialized for hovering in front of flowers to forage nectar. How their aerodynamic performance compares is, however, unclear. To hover, hummingbirds consistently generate about a quarter of the vertical aerodynamic force required to support their body weight during the upstroke. In contrast, generalist birds in slow hovering flight generate little upstroke weight support. We report that nectar bats also generate elevated weight support during the upstroke compared to generalist bats. Comparing 20 Neotropical species, we show how nectarivorous birds and bats converged on this ability by inverting their respective feathered and membrane wings more than species with other diets. However, while hummingbirds converged on an efficient horizontal wingbeat to mostly generate lift, bats rely on lift and drag during the downstroke to fully support their body weight. Furthermore, whereas the ability of nectar bats to aerodynamically support their body weight during the upstroke is elevated, it is much smaller than that of hummingbirds. Bats compensate by generating more aerodynamic weight support during their extended downstroke. Although, in principle, it requires more aerodynamic power to hover using this method, bats have adapted by evolving much larger wings for their body weight. Therefore, the net aerodynamic induced power required to hover is similar among hummingbirds and bats per unit body mass. This mechanistic insight into how feathered wings and membrane wings ultimately require similar aerodynamic power to hover may inform analogous design trade-offs in aerial robots.
Project description:Many small passerines regularly fly slowly when catching prey, flying in cluttered environments or landing on a perch or nest. While flying slowly, passerines generate most of the flight forces during the downstroke, and have a 'feathered upstroke' during which they make their wing inactive by retracting it close to the body and by spreading the primary wing feathers. How this flight mode relates aerodynamically to the cruising flight and so-called 'normal hovering' as used in hummingbirds is not yet known. Here, we present time-resolved fluid dynamics data in combination with wingbeat kinematics data for three pied flycatchers flying across a range of speeds from near hovering to their calculated minimum power speed. Flycatchers are adapted to low speed flight, which they habitually use when catching insects on the wing. From the wake dynamics data, we constructed average wingbeat wakes and determined the time-resolved flight forces, the time-resolved downwash distributions and the resulting lift-to-drag ratios, span efficiencies and flap efficiencies. During the downstroke, slow-flying flycatchers generate a single-vortex loop wake, which is much more similar to that generated by birds at cruising flight speeds than it is to the double loop vortex wake in hovering hummingbirds. This wake structure results in a relatively high downwash behind the body, which can be explained by the relatively active tail in flycatchers. As a result of this, slow-flying flycatchers have a span efficiency which is similar to that of the birds in cruising flight and which can be assumed to be higher than in hovering hummingbirds. During the upstroke, the wings of slowly flying flycatchers generated no significant forces, but the body-tail configuration added 23 per cent to weight support. This is strikingly similar to the 25 per cent weight support generated by the wing upstroke in hovering hummingbirds. Thus, for slow-flying passerines, the upstroke cannot be regarded as inactive, and the tail may be of importance for flight efficiency and possibly manoeuvrability.
Project description:Relatively little is known about how sensory information is used for controlling flight in birds. A powerful method is to immerse an animal in a dynamic virtual reality environment to examine behavioral responses. Here, we investigated the role of vision during free-flight hovering in hummingbirds to determine how optic flow--image movement across the retina--is used to control body position. We filmed hummingbirds hovering in front of a projection screen with the prediction that projecting moving patterns would disrupt hovering stability but stationary patterns would allow the hummingbird to stabilize position. When hovering in the presence of moving gratings and spirals, hummingbirds lost positional stability and responded to the specific orientation of the moving visual stimulus. There was no loss of stability with stationary versions of the same stimulus patterns. When exposed to a single stimulus many times or to a weakened stimulus that combined a moving spiral with a stationary checkerboard, the response to looming motion declined. However, even minimal visual motion was sufficient to cause a loss of positional stability despite prominent stationary features. Collectively, these experiments demonstrate that hummingbirds control hovering position by stabilizing motions in their visual field. The high sensitivity and persistence of this disruptive response is surprising, given that the hummingbird brain is highly specialized for sensory processing and spatial mapping, providing other potential mechanisms for controlling position.
Project description:Hummingbirds are well known for their ability to sustain hovering flight, but many other remarkable features of manoeuvrability characterize the more than 330 species of trochilid. Most research on hummingbird flight has been focused on either forward flight or hovering in otherwise non-perturbed air. In nature, however, hummingbirds fly through and must compensate for substantial environmental perturbation, including heavy rain, unpredictable updraughts and turbulent eddies. Here, we review recent studies on hummingbirds flying within challenging aerial environments, and discuss both the direct and indirect effects of unsteady environmental flows such as rain and von Kármán vortex streets. Both perturbation intensity and the spatio-temporal scale of disturbance (expressed with respect to characteristic body size) will influence mechanical responses of volant taxa. Most features of hummingbird manoeuvrability remain undescribed, as do evolutionary patterns of flight-related adaptation within the lineage. Trochilid flight performance under natural conditions far exceeds that of microair vehicles at similar scales, and the group as a whole presents many research opportunities for understanding aerial manoeuvrability.This article is part of the themed issue 'Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight'.
Project description:Botanical samaras spin about their centre of mass and create vertical aerodynamic forces which slow their rate of descent. Descending autorotation of animal wings, however, has never been documented. We report here that isolated wings from Anna's hummingbirds, and also from 10 species of insects, can stably autorotate and achieve descent speeds and aerodynamic performance comparable to those of samaras. A hummingbird wing loaded at its base with the equivalent of 50% of the bird's body mass descended only twice as fast as an unloaded wing, and rotated at frequencies similar to those of the wings in flapping flight. We found that even entire dead insects could stably autorotate depending on their wing postures. Feather removal trials showed no effect on descent velocity when the secondary feathers were removed from hummingbird wings. By contrast, partial removal of wing primaries substantially improved performance, except when only the outer primary was present. A scaling law for the aerodynamic performance of autorotating wings is well supported if the wing aspect ratio and the relative position of the spinning axis from the wing base are included. Autorotation is a useful and practical method that can be used to explore the aerodynamics of wing design.