Most living things we see on a daily basis (including other people) have the ability to both move forward and backwards. Do our airborne bird counterparts get to experience the same luxury?
As it turns out, 99% of all birds lack the ability to fly backwards. This inability is mostly a function of a bird’s wings. Most birds have a wing structure that includes extra strong muscles that pull their wings downward. These same birds usually have much weaker muscles designed to pull their wings back up as they rely on wind resistance to do most of the work. While some birds may give the visual perception of flying backwards, most still lack the ability to do so without assistance from wind. Ospreys, kestrels, kingfishers, and cuckoo are often mistaken for a bird species that are magically flying backwards in this manner. Some birds can move backward slightly using a fluttering method. This is common among herons, egrets, warblers, and flycatchers.
There exists only one species of bird that can reliably fly both forward and backward with precision without relying on the assistance of wind. In fact, this bird species can fly side to side, hover, and mostly move what can best be described as a “flying ninja.” We are referring to the Hummingbird: the most nimble and tactical species of all birds.
How Does the Hummingbird Fly Backwards
The hummingbird has a unique muscle and wing structure that gives them a level of flight control that other birds envy (or at least we do). You can think of a hummingbird as a miniature helicopter. Like a helicopter, the hummingbird can hover, fly right to left, left to right, diagonal, forwards, and yes, even backwards. The hummingbird has the ability to rotate its wings in circles making a figure eight. Based on the configuration of the figure eight as shown below, the hummingbird can change directions at will. So not only does the hummingbird fly backwards, it does so with great speed and grace. In fact, they fly at a speed of up to 30 mph! If you ever observe one, you will without a doubt notice their quickness. You may also notice that their wings move so quickly that they are just a blur. This blurred effect is a result of their wings flapping between 15 t0 100 times per second to maintain the kind of agility to allow them to fly backwards.
Birds that Fly Backwards: Interesting Facts
- The heart rate of a hummingbird can reach over 1,000 beats a minute.
- The fast-paced wing flapping creates a humming noise, which gives them their name.
- 1/3rd of a hummingbirds total weight comes from the muscles it uses to fly.
- Hummingbirds are constantly eating in order to fuel their flight agility; they have the highest metabolisms of all birds.
- In one day, a hummingbird will eat twice its body weight to survive.
Luckily for the hummingbird, they expend the same amount of energy moving forward as they do moving backwards!