Hummingbirds control turning velocity using body orientation and turning radius using asymmetrical wingbeat kinematics


Turning in flight requires reorientation of force, which birds, bats and insects accomplish either by shifting body position and total force in concert or by using left-right asymmetries in wingbeat kinematics. Although both mechanisms have been observed in multiple species, it is currently unknown how each is used to control changes in trajectory. We addressed this problem by measuring body and wingbeat kinematics as hummingbirds tracked a revolving feeder, and estimating aerodynamic forces using a quasi-steady model. During arcing turns, hummingbirds symmetrically banked the stroke plane of both wings, and the body, into turns, supporting a body-dependent mechanism. However, several wingbeat asymmetries were present during turning, including a higher and flatter outer wingtip path and a lower more deviated inner wingtip path. A quasi-steady analysis of arcing turns performed with different trajectories revealed that changes in radius were associated with asymmetrical kinematics and forces, and changes in velocity were associated with symmetrical kinematics and forces. Collectively, our results indicate that both body-dependent and -independent force orientation mechanisms are available to hummingbirds, and that these kinematic strategies are used to meet the separate aerodynamic challenges posed by changes in velocity and turning radius.

Journal of the Royal Society, Interface