Hummingbirds (Trochilidae) are widely known for their insect-like flight strokes characterized by high wing beat frequency, small muscle strains and a highly supinated wing orientation during upstroke that allows for lift production in both halves of the stroke cycle. Here, we show that hummingbirds achieve these functional traits within the limits imposed by a vertebrate endoskeleton and muscle physiology by accentuating a wing inversion mechanism found in other birds and using long-axis rotational movement of the humerus. In hummingbirds, long-axis rotation of the humerus creates additional wing translational movement, supplementing that produced by the humeral elevation and depression movements of a typical avian flight stroke. This adaptation increases the wing-to-muscle-transmission ratio, and is emblematic of a widespread scaling trend among flying animals whereby wing-to-muscle-transmission ratio varies inversely with mass, allowing animals of vastly different sizes to accommodate aerodynamic, biomechanical and physiological constraints on muscle-powered flapping flight.
Hedrick, Tyson LTobalske, Bret WRos, Ivo GWarrick, Douglas RBiewener, Andrew AengResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.England2011/12/16 06:00Proc Biol Sci. 2012 May 22;279(1735):1986-92. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2238. Epub 2011 Dec 14.