Okay, we’ve all seen birds fly before. But how many of us have seen those birds fly backwards? Hummingbirds are unique because they are able to fly in almost all directions, including backwards! This one of a kind utility is rare among birds but is common among insects. How do hummingbirds do it? What allows hummingbirds to execute flying maneuvers that other flying birds can’t?
The key difference is that hummingbirds flap their wings differently than other birds do. While most birds flap their wings up and down to stay in the air, hummingbirds do more than that. Hummingbirds evolved to flap their wings like insects such as dragonflies and fruit flies. Hummingbirds fly by flapping their wings up and down but at the same time, twisting their wings.
I bet you’re asking, “that’s it? They have slightly different wing strokes?” Well, in a sense, yes. The fact that hummingbirds were able to evolve this method of flying is amazing as it is! To better imagine the difference, think about swimming which is basically like flying in a liquid. In order to move ourselves forward, we “flap” our arms and legs up and down, just like how birds flap their wings. I think it’s safe to assume anybody who swims has learned to tread water. In order to stay in one spot and float, we tread water by moving our limbs in a figure-eight motion. In essence, that’s what hummingbirds are doing! They’re “treading” air!
So of course, this raises another question: why don’t other birds “tread” air too? The answer is simpler than you would think. It’s because “treading” requires huge amounts of energy and the energy consumption for other, larger birds would be larger in turn.That’s why hummingbirds are always on the hunt for food and are constantly searching for high energy foods such as sugary nectar. Also, big birds do “tread” air, just not for long periods of time. Think of instances when big birds take off or land. They’re essentially treading air!