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Hummingbirds Flying Prowess Lessened By Moving Objects

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New study takes some of the luster off the hummingbirds aerial abilities.

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia shows that hummingbirds grace and ability to flit between food sources is hampered by having moving objects in their visually field.

Now I understand “Betty”

Now, this makes sense. This makes a tremendous amount of sense without necessarily understanding the science on a personal level to me. See, I have a cat named “Betty,” and she is not in possession of your standard feline grace. She’s actually a bit cloddish and walks a lot like John Wayne.

I’ve never really understood how she has been able to get/kill/eat so many hummingbirds. But my door is always open and I’m moving around inside not to mention the hummingbirds (at my house) feed on vertical hanging orchids that often sway in the wind. Between the two, my clumsy cat’s hunting prowess is now make a bit more sense.

“Our brains interpret visual motion based on our current circumstances,” said Douglas Altshuler, one of the researchers, in a news release accompanying a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  “We react very different to sideways movement in a parked car than while driving. Now we want to investigate how birds use vision during transitions from mode to mode, for example as they move from hovering to forward flight.

Hummingbirds: Projection of moving patterns

To study this anomaly, the researchers project moving patterns in front of a feeder used by free-flying hummingbirds. The researchers found that this motion reduced the hummingbirds ability to stay in one place and led to drifting and a loss of stability.

“We were very surprised to see how strong and lasting the disruption was-birds with hovering and feeding abilities fine-tuned to the millimeter were off the mark by a centimeter,” said Benjamin Goller. “We think the hummingbird’s brain is so precisely wired to process movement in its field of vision that it gets overwhelmed by even small stimuli during hovering.”

While I don’t love it when Betty kills hummingbirds, she is a cat, and now it makes a lot more sense.

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