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’.
One contribution of 17 to a theme issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.
- Accepted March 7, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.