Still in Flight

Hummingbirds, Trochilidae, are among the world’s smallest birds, and can only be found in the Americas. Known for their diminutive size and ability to fly backwards, Hummingbirds are capable of flight speeds exceeding 15m/s. Two interesting facts to note about the Hummingbird, is its ability to hover mid-air, through the rapid flapping of its wings as well as its extraordinarily high metabolic rate.

Hovering Hummingbird

Hummingbirds get their name from the “hum” heard as a result of the rapid flapping of their wings, which allows them to hover mid-air. Hummingbirds are the only species capable of hovering for a long period of time, and hover for a large part of their lives and have special mechanisms which allow them to flap their wings up to 80 times per second. This is enhanced by their extraordinarily high metabolic rate, which causes the expansion of their heart, and thus supplying their wings with the oxygen needed to flap rapidly and stay stationary in mid-air.

Hummingbirds make use of their ability to hover for prolonged periods of time to forage for nectar. It has been studied that the formation of flowers and hummingbirds feeding habits are the key reasons why it is more energy efficient for them to hover instead of perch like larger bird species. An article by Richard S. Miller – How Hummingbirds Hover, concurs on this point and investigates Hummingbirds foraging behavior and how hovering plays an important role. He also concedes that “floral architecture rather than energetics” may be the reason for hovering in Hummingbirds.


Richard S. Miller, October 1985. How Hummingbirds Hover, The Auk Vol. 102, No.4,pp. 722-726.
“About Hummingbirds”, by Lanny Chambers. URL: (Accessed on 5th April 2010)
“How Hummingbirds Hover”, by Mo. URL: (Accessed on 5th April 2010)
“Slow Motion Hummingbird Hover”, by The Wired, 19 May 2009. URL: (Acccessed on 6th April 2010)