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Physiol Biochem Zool. 1999 Mar-Apr;72(2):145-55.

Maximal horizontal flight performance of hummingbirds: effects of body mass and molt.

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Department of Zoology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712-1064.


Hovering and fast forward flapping represent two strenuous types of flight that differ in aerodynamic power requirement. Maximal capabilities of ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) in hovering and forward flight were compared under varying body mass and wing area. The capability to hover in low-density gas mixtures was adversely affected by body mass, whereas the capability to fly in a wind tunnel did not show any adverse mass effect. Molting birds that lost primary flight feathers and reduced wing area also displayed mass loss and loss of aerodynamic power and flight speed. This suggests that maximal flight speed is insensitive to short-term perturbations of body mass but that molting is stressful and reduces the birds' speed and capacity for chase and escape. Hummingbirds' flight behavior in confined space was also investigated. Birds reduced their speeds flying through a narrow tube to approximately one-fifth of that in the wind tunnel and did not display differences under varying body mass and wing area. Hence, performance in the flight tube was submaximal and did not correlate with performance variation in the wind tunnel. For ruby-throated hummingbirds, both maximal mass-specific aerodynamic power derived from hovering performance in low-density air media and maximal flight velocity measured in the wind tunnel were invariant with body mass.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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