Courtship dives of Anna's hummingbird offer insights into flight performance limits

Christopher James Clark


Behavioural displays are a common feature of animal courtship. Just as female preferences can generate exaggerated male ornaments, female preferences for dynamic behaviours may cause males to perform courtship displays near intrinsic performance limits. I provide an example of an extreme display, the courtship dive of Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna). Diving male Anna's hummingbirds were filmed with a combination of high-speed and conventional video cameras. After powering the initial stage of the dive by flapping, males folded their wings by their sides, at which point they reached an average maximum velocity of 385 body lengths s−1 (27.3 m s−1). This is the highest known length-specific velocity attained by any vertebrate. This velocity suggests their body drag coefficient is less than 0.3. They then spread their wings to pull up, and experienced centripetal accelerations nearly nine times greater than gravitational acceleration. This acceleration is the highest reported for any vertebrate undergoing a voluntary aerial manoeuvre, except jet fighter pilots. Stereotyped courtship behaviours offer several advantages for the study of extreme locomotor performance, and can be assessed in a natural context.


    • Received March 26, 2009.
    • Accepted May 13, 2009.
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