Flight in Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is typical of the Trochilidae. Hummingbirds are incredibly aerobatic and able to hover and fly backwards--even upside-down--and attain respectable forward speeds of 40kph or more during straight-line migration. Hummingbirds reach maximum velocity almost instantly after leaving a perch, and they do not push off with their legs as many birds do. Likewise, when returning to perch, they stop almost instantly, alighting gently on a thin twig or wire. It has even been said that the female hummingbird returning to a nest puts down so quickly AND gently that she is already incubating before her wings are folded.

In hovering flight, the wings of the RTHU move forward and backward--not up and down--and trace a figure-8, with lift being produced by both the forward AND backward strokes. Normal wing beat rate is about 80 times per second, up to 200 times per second in courtship flight.

Beyond hovering, the most remarkable aspect of hummingbird flight is endurance. When migrating RTHUs depart from Florida or the Texas Gulf Coast toward the Yucatan Peninsula, there's no turning back, and there aren't any fast-food stops along the way. At an average rate of 40kph, it takes a hummingbird about 20 hours to fly the 800 or so kilometers across the Gulf of Mexico, an astounding feat for an organism that weighs--even after putting on fat--only about 5-7g.

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