“Can hummingbirds fly backwards?” is a fairly common Google query when it comes to these little creatures. And we have to admit, we never really thought about a bird’s ability to fly in different directions.
But the answer is yes. And, in fact, they’re the only birds that have the ability to fly backwards for any significant length of time. Flycatchers, warblers, and herons can move backwards, but only as a defensive maneuver.
Hummingbird flying skills – backward, forward, side to side
According to the Audobon Society (cited below), “The hummingbird is the only bird that can truly hover. It manages this by flapping its wings 20 to 80 times a second. It can fly straight up and down. Backwards and forwards. Or upside down. And up to 75 miles an hour. But don’t worry, it won’t run into you. This bird can slow down from 25 miles an hour to a dead stop in a space no longer than your index finger.”
It’s the bird’s unique muscle structure in their wings that allows them to fly this way. For example, they have a rotator cuff that allows them to move their wings in a figure-8 pattern.
The trade-off is that they have very weak legs. They can only hop short distances – and not very well. So they fly just about everywhere.
Fun facts about hummingbirds
Some other interesting things about hummingbirds that contribute to their uniqueness include:
- Their ability to beat their wings up to 200 times per second. (This is especially the case in the smallest hummingbird species with the smallest wingspans – they need to move fast to stay aloft.)
- The average speed of a hummingbird is 30 mph. That’s part of the reason they’re so hard to capture on camera.
- The average hummingbird can consume twice its weight in sugar, which is needs to have the energy to power its flight.
- Hummingbirds have around 1000 to 1500 feathers. And while that may sound like a lot, it’s significantly less than other birds. And that makes them more lightweight (a ruby throated hummingbird, for example, weighs just three grams).
- Hummingbirds migrate from the east coast of the US to Central America each year, 1300-mile journey. It’s believed they can fly up to 500 miles in one day.
If you see a chubby hummingbird, it’s likely ready to begin its migration journey. The little creatures gain around 20 to 40% more body fat before they begin their annual migrations.
Since they live for around 5 years (though a few have been known to live to 11 or 12 years), they make the long trip more than a few times in their lives.