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What Happens When You Put a Hummingbird in a Wind Tunnel? | Deep Look

Scientists have used a high-speed camera to film hummingbirds' aerial acrobatics at 1000 frames per second. They can see, frame by frame, how neither wind nor rain stop these tiniest of birds from fueling up.

DEEP LOOK: a new ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Get a new perspective on our place in the universe and meet extraordinary new friends. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

How do hummingbirds eat?

With spring in full bloom, hummingbirds can be spotted flitting from flower to flower and lapping up the sugary nectar inside. These tiniest of birds have the highest metabolism of any warm-blooded animal, requiring them to consume their own body weight in nectar each day to survive.

By comparison, if a 150-pound human had the metabolism of a hummingbird, he or she would need to consume the caloric equivalent of more than 300 hamburgers a day.

But it's not just an extreme appetite that sets hummingbirds apart from other birds. These avian acrobats are the only birds that can fly sideways, backwards and hover for long stretches of time. In fact, hovering is essential to hummingbirds' survival since they have to keep their long, thin beaks as steady as a surgeon's scalpel while probing flowers for nectar.

How do Hummingbirds fly?

Hummingbirds don't just hover to feed when the weather is nice. They have to keep hovering and feeding even if it's windy or raining, a remarkable feat considering most of these birds weigh less than a nickel.

More great Deep Look episodes:

Newt Sex: Buff Males! Writhing Females! Cannibalism!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m37QR_4XNY

Pygmy Seahorses: Masters of Camouflage
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3CtGoqz3ww

Banana Slugs: Secret of the Slime
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See also another great video from the PBS Digital Studios!

Where Do Birds Go In Winter? - It's Okay to be Smart
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds2XFvSQzBg

Read the extended article on how hummingbirds hover at KQED Science:

http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2015/03/31/what-happens-when-you-put-a-hummingbird-in-a-wind-tunnel/

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KQED Science: http://kqed.org/science

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by HopeLab, The David B. Gold Foundation; S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation; The Vadasz Family Foundation; Smart Family Foundation and the members of KQED.