The hummingbird myth comes to an end

January 30, 2008 8:12:26 PM PST
It's said we're living in a second golden age of scientific discovery, covering the smallest of particles to the deepest reaches of space. Now, two U.C. Berkeley researchers have solved a mystery pondered by backyard birdwatchers for years.

The scientific name is Caliopte Anna also known as your common backyard hummingbird. It is a creature of long-term fascination for researchers Chris Clark and Teresa Feo.

We found them on the edge of the U.C. Berkeley campus. As the rest of the world swirled around them, these birds stood dead still.

Experienced hummingbird observers have marveled at the male's territorial dives. Chris Clark shot one with his camera by sitting in a tree and holding a stuffed humming bird at arms length. As the birds descend, they make a warning noise.

It would be natural to assume that the hummingbird makes that sound with its voice. That is not necessarily the case. For close to 70 years, science has debated it.

One theory likened the bird's tail feathers to reeds in a clarinet. At just the right speed and aerodynamic pressure, could they be vibrating? To find out, the students took hummingbird tail feathers and put then in a wind tunnel at 50 miles an hour. They duplicated the sound. Then, for proof, they disabled the tail feathers on laboratory birds and listened to them fly.

"It doesn't do it with its mouth," says Teresa Feo, Berkeley student.

Birdwatchers can now rest easy as to Berkeley Students unlocked the mystery to this beautiful bird. It's the first bird in the world, now known to tweet with its tail.


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