The aerodynamics of hummingbird flight

Douglas R. Warrick, Bret W. Tobalske, Donald R. Powers, Michael H. Dickinson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Hummingbirds fly with their wings almost fully extended during their entire wingbeat. This pattern, associated with having proportionally short humeral bones, long distal wing elements, and assumed to be an adaptation for extended hovering flight, has lead to predictions that the aerodynamic mechanisms exploited by hummingbirds during hovering should be similar to those observed in insects. To test these predictions, we flew rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus, 3.3 g, n = 6) in a variable-speed wind tunnel (0-12 ms-1 and measured wake structure and dynamics using digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV). Unlike hovering insects, hummingbirds produced 75% of their weight support during downstroke and only 25% during upstroke, an asymmetry due to the inversion of their cambered wings during upstroke. Further, we have found no evidence of sustained, attached leading edge vorticity (LEV) during up or downstroke, as has been seen in similarly-sized insects - although a transient LEV is produced during the rapid change in angle of attack at the end of the downstroke. Finally, although an extended-wing upstroke during forward flight has long been thought to produce lift and negative thrust, we found circulation during downstroke alone to be sufficient to support body weight, and that some positive thrust was produced during upstroke, as evidenced by a vortex pair shed into the wake of all upstrokes at speeds of 4-12 m s-1.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollection of Technical Papers - 45th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting
Number of pages5
StatePublished - Jan 8 2007
Event45th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting 2007 - Reno, NV, United States
Duration: Jan 8 2007Jan 11 2007

Publication series

NameCollection of Technical Papers - 45th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting


Conference45th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting 2007
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityReno, NV


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