Trivia

Hard

The Only Birds That Can Fly Backwards Are?

Hummingbirds
Kingfishers
Himalayan Monals
Flamecrests
A Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird perched on a tree limb in Venezuela.
Tom Friedel/Wikimedia

Answer: Hummingbirds

Hummingbird flight has fascinated both birders and scientists alike for hundreds of years. Unlike every other flying bird in the world, whose behaviors and flight styles clearly have a strong regard for the physics of falling and aeronautical uplift, the hummingbird seems to fly with a blissful disregard for the limitations of avian flight.

Where most birds employ a style of pumping their wings and gliding (so much so that it’s relatively easy to catch a clear look at the wings of nearly any bird at some point during flight), hummingbirds flutter their wings at a speed so high they, well, hum. Further, they can pivot their wings to such an extent (up to 180 degrees) that they aren’t limited to simply flying forward, but can hover in place, fly sideways, fly straight up, and even reverse their flight—a feat seen in no other bird.

The peculiar high speed and omnidirectional flight of the hummingbird is born out of necessity. The tiny shimmering creatures are always on the brink of starvation and their frantic flight from flower to flower is their constant bid to replenish their rapidly depleting glucose stores in order to live to hum another day.

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