Hummingbirds Singing with their Tail Feathers

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Aeroelastic flutter occurs when fluid mechanical forces and structural forces get coupled together, one feeding the other. Usually, we think of it as a destructive mechanism, but, for hummingbirds, it’s part of courtship. When a male hummingbird looks to attract a mate, he’ll climb and dive, flaring his tail feathers one or more times. As he does so, air flow over the feathers causes them to vibrate and produce noise. Researchers studied such tail feathers in a wind tunnel, finding a variety of vibrational behaviors, including a tendency for constructive interference–in other words two feathers vibrating in proximity is much louder than either individually. For more, check out the original Science article or the write-up at (Video credit: C. Clark et al.)

One comment
  1. el

    Fantastic study, incredible sounds. I am an artist, and in the last two months I became interested in painting hummingbirds. I have been studying photos, and reading information. I had no idea hummingbirds were so complex. I was so ignorant, I did not think hummingbirds had feathers over their body, only in the wings. Looking at them from afar, their bodies looked like a solid piece of velvet. I have seen and heard them flying, I thought I detected sounds like” tchik”, a friend told me they made that sound when defending their territory. Your article has open my eyes. I loved the wind tunnel studies you did. I am studying their anatomy, to be able to paint them. Thank you for all the information you have given me.

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