The Chance To Mate Can Make a Male Move Faster Than a Fighter Jet Literally, if He's a Humming Bird

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Is
it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually it’s a bird that flies faster
than a plane, relatively at least.

The dramatic
courtship dive of a small hummingbird has been found to be the quickest
aerial manoeuvre in the natural world for an animal compared to
its size. It even outpaces the movements of a jet fighter and the
Space Shuttle on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Anna’s hummingbird
lives in the American south-west and the courtship display of the
male is renowned for its death-defying dive that ends abruptly with
a dramatic upturn with outstretched wings and tail feathers that
stop the bird from crashing into the ground.

Scientists
calculated that the 50mph speed of the hummingbird at the fastest
point in its descent is equivalent to it moving 383 times its body
length each second. The G-force as it turns out of its dive is nearly
nine times the force of gravity – the same as the maximum G-forces
experienced by fighter pilots. But Christopher Clark, of the University
of California, Berkeley, estimates that the G-forces created as
the bird comes out of its dive would make many trained fighter pilots
black out as a result of the rush of blood away from the brain.

"During
their courtship dive, male Anna’s hummingbirds reach speeds and
accelerations that exceed the previous performance records for vertebrates
undergoing a voluntarily aerial manoeuvre," said Dr Clark.

"After
powering the initial stage of the dive by flapping, males folded
their wings by their sides, at which point they reached an average
maximum velocity of 383 body lengths per second. This is the highest
known length-specific velocity attained by any vertebrate,"
Dr Clark said.

Aerial diving
is seen in the courtship displays of many other birds, such as nighthawks
and snipes, and it is a common feature of many bird species that
attack their prey from the air – such as kingfishers, seabirds
and falcons – but none come close to matching the speed and
acceleration of the hummingbird, he said.

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the rest of the article

June
11, 2009

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