Active wing-pitching mechanism in hummingbird escape maneuvers

Mohammad Nasirul Haque, Bo Cheng, Bret W. Tobalske, Haoxiang Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Previous studies suggested that wing pitching, i.e. the wing rotation around its long axis, of insects and hummingbirds is primarily driven by an inertial effect associated with stroke deceleration and acceleration of the wings and is thus passive. Here we considered the rapid escape maneuver of hummingbirds who were initially hovering but then startled by the frontal approach of a looming object. During the maneuver, the hummingbirds substantially changed their wingbeat frequency, wing trajectory, and other kinematic parameters. Using wing kinematics reconstructed from high-speed videos and computational fluid dynamics modeling, we found that although the same inertial effect drove the wing flipping at stroke reversal as in hovering, significant power input was required to pitch up the wings during downstroke to enhance aerodynamic force production; furthermore, the net power input could be positive for wing pitching in a complete wingbeat cycle. Therefore, our study suggests that an active mechanism was present during the maneuver to drive wing pitching. In addition to the powered pitching, wing deviation during upstroke required twice as much power as hovering to move the wings caudally when the birds redirected the aerodynamic force vector for escaping. These findings were consistent with our hypothesis that enhanced muscle recruitment is essential for hummingbirds’ escape maneuvers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number056008
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 29 2023


  • actuation mechanism
  • animal flight
  • computational fluid dynamics
  • hummingbird
  • maneuver
  • wing kinematics
  • wing pitching
  • Insecta/physiology
  • Flight, Animal/physiology
  • Wings, Animal/physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Models, Biological
  • Birds/physiology


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