Optic flow stabilizes flight in ruby-throated hummingbirds


Ros IG, Biewener AA. Optic flow stabilizes flight in ruby-throated hummingbirds. J. Exp. Biol. 2016;219 :2443-2448.


Flying birds rely on visual cues for retinal image stabilization by negating rotation-induced optic flow, the motion of the visual panorama across the retina, through corrective eye and head movements. In combination with vestibular and proprioceptive feedback, birds may also use visual cues to stabilize their body during flight. Here, we test whether artificially induced wide-field motion generated through projected visual patterns elicits maneuvers in body orientation and flight position, in addition to stabilizing vision. To test this hypothesis, we present hummingbirds flying freely within a 1.2 m cylindrical visual arena with a virtual surround rotated at different speeds about its vertical axis. The birds responded robustly to these visual perturbations by rotating their heads and bodies with the moving visual surround, and by adjusting their flight trajectories, following the surround. Thus, similar to insects, hummingbirds appear to use optic flow cues to control flight maneuvers as well as to stabilize their visual inputs.