Hummingbird’s Flight Speed Beats a Fighter Jet

A male Anna’s hummingbird is distinguished by a ruby red patch on its chin and head. (Photo credit: Tim Zurowski/All Canada Photos/Alamy)

Male Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) have quite an impressive courtship display to impress the ladies. When the male spies a female during the breeding season, it proceeds to soar 30 meters up into the sky and then dives down toward the female, reaching speeds up to 27.3 meters per second (61 mph) at the peak of its dive. As the male hummingbird pulls out of the dive by outstretching its wings, it experiences forces more than nine times the force of gravity. As the study’s author points out, these same G forces would cause a trained fighter pilot to black out due to a rush of blood away from the brain. Luckily, the G forces do not have the same affect on the diving Anna’s hummingbird.

In studying the hummingbirds nose-diving courtship behavior, Christopher Clark, a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Berkeley, enticed males by setting out a caged or stuffed female Anna’s hummingbird in an area where the male could see it. Clark then placed a video camera in the area to capture the males flight. In addition to a standard video camera, Clark also used a video camera capable of capturing 500 frames per second.

Clark set-up was successful in garnering the interest of male Anna’s hummingbirds. More interested males flew up and dived by the female for a total of 10 to 15 times in a row. One overzealous suitor made 75 consecutive dives, taking only a few minutes break.

In recording the hummingbirds diving activity, Clark observed that the birds flap their wings when first diving, then fold their wings close to their body as they bullet down straight toward the female. The birds outstretch their wings at the base of their dive, heading back upward to make another pass.

In addition to their amazing speed, Clark determined that the hummingbirds also travel at a rate of 385 body-lengths per second. This figure is faster than a peregrine falcon (200 body-lengths per second), fighter jet (150 body-lengths per second), and space shuttle re-entering the atmosphere (207 body-lengths per second). Using this data, Clark concluded that the male Anna’s hummingbird has the highest known length-specific velocity attained by any vertebrate.

The results of Clark’s research were published in the June 9, 2009 edition of the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Comments

  1. kaye from LA says

    Do female hummingbirds reuse the same nest year after year?

  2. what are the male ann’s humming birds attracted to?

  3. antwan langston says

    my name is antwan. i read this article. to me it i pretty good. it is abot hummingbrids. it also tells you how fast they fly. also about when they travel in flocks.

  4. kalvinhart says

    I thought a fighter jet had boosters. So how can a humming bird fly faster than a fighter jet?

  5. I thought a fighter jet had turbo busters. So how can a hummingbird be faster then a fighter jet.

  6. I did not know hummingbirds beats 61mph
    that is faster them a fighter jet

  7. KESHIA BROWN says

    THIS ARTICLE WAS REALLY GOOD IT TAUGHT ME ALOT BOUT AN HUMMINGBIRD AND HOW THEY SOAR 30METERS IN THE SKY AND THEN DIVES TO THE FEMALE. LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!!

  8. i thought fighter jets could break the speed of sound, i dont think humming birds can beat that

  9. Susan, BioZine Editor says

    Hi Zack, Jared, and Kalvin: The article states that these hummingbirds fly faster than fighter jets in terms of length-specific velocity. Obviously, fighter jets can fly at higher overall speeds than can the Anna’s hummingbird.

  10. Appreciate the pics. VG.

    The part about the speed is denominated in body lengths per second. When a jet is going 150 body lengths per second and its body is 51 feet long (F-35), then its speed is 7650 ft/sec. Since the speed of sound is 1126 fps or 786 mph, the fighter jet they’re talking about would be going 6.79 times the speed of sound or 5340 mph. That seems pretty unreasonable since the F-35A is spec’d at 1200 mph. I think the airplane would melt if it ever got up to that speed.

    I think I just saw an Anna Hummingbird melt when another one came within about 1 foot. Nothing could be seen at all after the second guy arrived.

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