Raindrops: Dangerous to Hummingbirds?

Photo Credit: sweetbeangardening.blogspot.com

(ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE) It’s hard to believe that a simple raindrop could be hazardous, but a recent study shows that hummingbirds actually adjust the way they fly in order to avoid being taken out by rain. Learning about how these intelligent birds adapt their flights according to the weather can be beneficial to the way we navigate aircrafts. Read on for more details on how hummingbirds can help our aerospace navigation. — Global Animal
Hummingbirds must fly differently in order to avoid being hit by raindrops. Photo Credit: sweetbeangardening.blogspot.com

New York Times, Sindya N. Bhanoo

A recent study described how mosquitoes can survive in a rainstorm, even when hit by drops 50 times their size. Now researchers have answered a similar question about hummingbirds. 

A new study suggests the birds keep flying through a downpour by adjusting their posture and increasing the frequency of their wing beats. The research appears in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“A raindrop can be 38 percent of the body weight of the hummingbird,” said the new study’s first author, Victor Manuel Ortega-Jimenez, an integrative biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Imagine it: It’s an enormous force.”

Dr. Ortega-Jimenez and his colleague Robert Dudley studied a species known as Anna’s hummingbird, which lives in western North America and weighs less than a quarter of an ounce. In light and moderate rain, they found, the birds continue flying without major adjustments, but in heavy rain — simulated in the laboratory with an overhead spray — the birds adopted more horizontal body and tail positions. They also increased the frequency at which they beat their wings, while decreasing the flapping angle through which the wings move.

 Like the mosquito study, which found that the insects can pull away from raindrops and accommodate themselves to their force, this one may also help scientists develop more robust robots that can handle poor weather.

 “This could be useful in building small microaircraft,” Dr. Ortega-Jimenez said. “If this knowledge can be applied in aircraft, maybe they can deal with rain and have no problems during flights.”

More New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/science/hummingbirds-switch-gears-to-keep-flying-through-downpours.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss