What we can learn about the Hummingbird's gear shifting skills

Hummingbirds showed zoologists their aerial secrets in a four-meter tunnel. A study reveals the birds' two flight control techniques.

Dr. Vikram B. Baliga, the study's lead author, says hummingbirds use a 'internal forward model,' like an autopilot, when cruising ahead. It's their go-to fast judgment strategy in a visual clutter.

They use real-time, direct visual data from their surroundings during sensitive hovering or height adjustments.

The discovery provides a fascinating look at the hummingbird's world and has implications for autonomous flying and hovering vehicles. "Understanding these distinct flight control strategies could shape the programming of next-gen navigation systems," says Baliga.

Flight monitoring experiment details The experiment involves hummingbirds flying from perch to feeder in the tunnel beneath video cameras. Researchers used chamber wall patterns to test birds' visual responses.

Horizontal stripes indicated altitude changes, vertical stripes indicated forward velocity, while whirling swirls on the front wall simulated positional alterations. Dr. Baliga reports:  

"If the birds were only responding to visual inputs, their forward velocity would match the vertical stripes. Interestingly, the association wasn't obvious. The birds fine-tuned their motions depending on our visual cues for height adjustments and hovering."

According to senior author Dr. Doug Altshuler, “While our primary focus was on unraveling how hummingbirds manage flight speed, their spontaneous breaks to hover uncovered these dual strategies for controlling different aspects of their trajectories.”

These findings have technological implications beyond avian study. The hummingbird's playbook could inspire future autonomous flying and hovering vehicles' agility and response.

Hummingbirds teach navigation and adaptation with each flap of their wings. Their flight may reveal nature's beauties and the future of flying technology, where accuracy and adaptability rule.

UBC zoologists published this work in. Royal Society Proceedings B. EurekAlert reported the press release.