Quirks & Quarks

How do hummingbirds avoid 50 km/h collisions?

The bird's remarkable speed and precision is aided by remarkable vision.
A male Anna's hummingbird in mid-flight. (Pat Durkin)

The ability of the hummingbird to dart back-and-forth quickly from a hovering position is unique among birds. 

A new study by UBC zoologist Dr. Andrea Gaede has found that it is related to the way the birds process visual information. 

In other birds, the motion detecting neurons in the brain are tuned to detect backwards and forwards motion, allowing them to detect predators coming from behind for example.  But in hummingbirds, those same neurons are tuned in many different directions, and are also responsive to very fast motion.

Gaede hopes that understanding this process could help humans with balance issues, or related mechanical issues in the field of robotics.       

Research paper: Neurons Responsive to Global Visual Motion Have Unique Tuning Properties in Hummingbirds