Research

Flying Through Waterfalls

A hummingbird parts an artificial waterfall with its wing before passing through.

Swifts and starlings often make their nests behind waterfalls. To explore how these birds traverse their watery curtain, researchers observed hummingbirds, a smaller sister species, flying through an artificial waterfall. They found that the birds tended to part the water with one wing while continuing to use the other to produce thrust. This behavior helped them cross the barrier smoothly and easily.

In contrast, smaller and slower flyers, like the insect species the researchers tested, were typically unable to cross the waterfall. Instead, they got carried away by the flow or managed to pass through only to crash. The scientists suggest that protection from insects may be one reason birds choose to nest behind waterfalls. (Image and research credit: V. Ortega-Jimenez et al.; via Science; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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