Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The secret to hummers' hover?

Canadian scientists might have discovered how hummingbirds remain stationary in flight.

A pair of researchers from the University of Alberta have pinpointed a section of the tiny bird's brain that may be responsible for its unique ability to stay motionless midair, ending decades of guesswork by researchers fascinated by the world's smallest bird.

"From a pure science perspective, it's just amazing that they can do this because they're staying perfectly stationary in space for long periods of time, despite the fact that their wings are beating at like 75 times per second, which really must be jerking them around," said Dr. Doug Wong-Wylie, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural and Systems Neuroscience and who co-wrote the study with a colleague from the University of Alberta, Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk.

...

Dr. Wong-Wylie and Dr. Iwaniuk found that a specific nucleus -- one that detects any movement of the entire visual world -- was two to five times bigger in the hummingbird than in any other species, relative to brain size. The hummingbird's brain is about the size of a grain of rice.
For more details, read the Globe and Mail article.

Allen's Hummingbird courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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