Hovering and forward flight energetics in Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds

Physiol Biochem Zool. Jul-Aug 2010;83(4):654-62. doi: 10.1086/653477.


Aerodynamic theory predicts that the mechanical costs of flight are lowest at intermediate flight speeds; metabolic costs of flight should trend similarly if muscle efficiency is constant. We measured metabolic rates for nine Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) and two male Allen's hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin) feeding during flight from a free-standing mask over a range of airspeeds. Ten of 11 birds exhibited higher metabolic costs during hovering than during flight at intermediate airspeeds, whereas one individual exhibited comparable costs at hovering and during forward flight up to speeds of approximately 7 m s(-1). Flight costs of all hummingbirds increased at higher airspeeds. Relative to Anna's hummingbirds, Allen's hummingbirds exhibited deeper minima in the power curve, possibly due to higher wing loadings and greater associated costs of induced drag. Although feeding at a mask in an airstream may reduce body drag and, thus, the contributions of parasite power to overall metabolic expenditure, these results suggest that hummingbird power curves are characterized by energetic minima at intermediate speeds relative to hovering costs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Male
  • Video Recording
  • Wings, Animal / metabolism*