It has been discovered that certain special visual abilities help hummingbirds avoid accidents while flying at high speeds.
Hummingbirds have tons of agility in the fine art of flying. They travel very fast (about 50 km/h) and often make intermittent stops to hover over vegetation.
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Researchers have found to their surprise that hummingbirds process visual stimuli in a radically different manner from other animals. This may be a compensatory mechanism to help them deal with their environment while they are engaged in high speed acrobatics in the air.
Since birds fly much faster than insects, the danger is always there that they may collide with objects in the surrounding habitat. After studying hummingbirds, scientists found that these tiny powerhouses tended to process visual signals differently from insects.
These birds were placed in tunnels. Then their behavior was analyzed to see how they avoided collisions with various objects in the tunnels. A total of eight cameras were fitted to observe the flight patterns of the hummingbirds.
The length of the tunnel was 5.5 meters. Hummingbirds love sugar water. So a source of sugar water was placed at one end of the tunnel. On the other side a perch was placed on which the hummingbirds were introduced into this tunnel.
The tiny hummingbirds flew between the perch and the feeder all day long. Many visual stimuli were tested on the hummingbirds. Although not much is known about bird vision, the visual system of bees is something about which we have sufficient data.
Bees process visual cues by how fast an object flits past their observational range. This is the selfsame mechanism that drivers of vehicles use to navigate the environment.
The traffic and telephone poles on the sidewalk not to mention the surrounding buildings are all taken into cognizance by the driver of the vehicle.
When the researchers simulated these sort of visual signals in the tunnel, the hummingbirds didn’t respond at all. Instead of reacting to this array of visual stimuli, the hummingbirds gauged their surroundings based on the size of the objects.
This cue helped them make decisions as to the distance of anything in the milieu. As something got bigger, the hummingbird thought that it was getting closer and so the avian species steered a course away from it.
As something got smaller, the hummingbird gauged the fact that it was at a safe distance. Such a strategy helped the hummingbird avoid unnecessary collisions.
The hummingbirds used a mechanism that had an affinity with the navigational setup of flies. This is termed image velocity and it leads to an assessment of height.
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The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.