Hummingbirds' superspeed dive bombs

Diving hummingbirds experience g-forces in the range that could cause human stunt pilots to blackout. According to new UC Berkeley research, male Anna's hummingbirds fly 30 meters up and then dive down. As they pull up before smashing into the ground, they hit up to 9 Gs. The trick is all about impressing females. From Science news:
For a short period at their peak speed, the birds folded their wings and drilled down through the air at speeds up to 27.3 meters per second (61 miles per hour)...

Adjust for body length, and the world just got a new fastest bird, (integrative biology grad student Chris) Clark says. The hummingbirds’ speed reached 385 body lengths per second, easily beating the peregrine falcon’s recorded dives at 200 body lengths per second. (Though the falcon was diving at 70 meters per second.) A fighter jet with its afterburners on reaches 150 body lengths per second, and a space shuttle screaming down through the atmosphere hits 207 body lengths per second.
"Hummingbird pulls Top Gun stunts"



  1. If we’re going to measure by body lengths per second, I’m guessing there might be insects who will shatter these records. And then the birds will be all “Well, it’s really about absolute speed anyway” and the humans will point to aircraft and the birds will say “biologically achieved absolute speed”.

  2. The trick is all about impressing females.

    Same goes for those aforementioned human stunt pilots.

  3. I love watching those guys do this to impress the chicks. They usually let out a high-pitched peep just as they pull out- I like to think that if you recorded that sound and played it back at slow speed you’d hear “YEEEEEEEEHAWWWWWW!!!”

  4. Been waiting for a wonderful hummingbird post for an excuse to share a trick the neighbor showed me recently:

    If you put your hands around the base of a hummingbird feeder, the hummingbirds will happily land right on your fingers as they insert their beaks into the hole, and suck out the sugar-water from the tube.

  5. @Brainspore, there was a report from this group last year explaining how the Anna males make that high-pitched peep, for which nobody had previously found a definitive explanation. Turns out it’s not a vocalization, it’s made by wind through their tail feathers at the bottom of the dive! So I wonder if the dive is all about the peep, or just a side-effect.

    1. I saw two males get into a fight in Golden Gate Park once. Not only did they spin around each other like Yoda with a light saber, but they raised the feathers on their faces so that they both appeared to have huge, brightly iridescent heads. It was a bit frightening despite their tiny size.

  6. Thanks for the info and video.
    I saw this behavior only once back in the day (1957 or 58) while registering for classes at Cal Poly. There were two birds doing the dive swoop thing and I thought they were fighting over the blooming bushes around the registration line.

  7. I’ve got a hummingbird feeder right outside the dining room window. One male we call ‘Bullybird’ won’t let hummingbirds from other clans drink there- he chases them off.
    I carved a phony hummingbird out of styrofoam and painted it to look pretty realistic, using a spring from a ball-point pen for a leg, so I could attach it to the perch. Bullybird has pecked the top of his head off.

  8. I agree that body-lengths-per-second isn’t a meaningful measure. It reminds me of the “ants can carry 50 times their own body rate” metric–sure, it may be true, but it doesn’t scale up to larger sizes. If hummingbirds were the size of eagles, they wouldn’t be breaking the sound barrier.

  9. .
    I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work

    You know what does work? A full loop-de-loop followed by a somersault into the bird bath. And a platinum VISA card. Or just the card.

    Don’t leave the nest without it.

  10. I’ve seen that behavior in Griffith Park. I wondered what that was about, and I forgot to Google it when I got home.

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