The use of a low cost high speed camera to monitor wingbeat frequency in hummingbirds (Trochilidae)


Authors: Ronny STEEN


Published: Volume 61.1, June 2014. Pages 111-120.

Language: English


Wingbeat frequency is an important parameter when studying flight performance in hummingbirds and could be put into an ecological and evolutionary context to investigate the decisions that a hummingbird takes regarding foraging efficiency. Previous studies of wingbeat frequencies in hummingbirds have been undertaken with captive birds, most probably due to limitations of experimental design and/or less mobile equipment. In the present paper I describe how I used a budget camera, which captured 220 frames per sec (fps), to film hummingbirds in order to quantify wingbeat frequency under natural conditions in Costa Rica. With this equipment I was able to obtain detailed information about stationary hovering flight in three different species; the charming hummingbird Amazilia decora, purple-throated mountain-gem Lampornis calolaema and violet sabrewing Campylopterus hemileucurus. Wingbeat frequency was higher for the purple-throated mountain-gem and the charming hummingbird compared to the larger violet sabrewing. It did not differ between the purple-throated mountain-gem and the charming hummingbird, which are more similar in size. In the purple-throated mountain-gem I found a higher wingbeat frequency and increased body inclination while hover-feeding compared to hovering in front of the feeder; hence it may be more costly to hover while feeding. It is hoped that the video techniques used here will encourage researchers to record wingbeat frequencies across a range of animal taxa.

Supplementary material:

Video: Examples of wingbeat frequencies in three hummingbird species.

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