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Long, sexy tails not a drag on male birds
Date:3/12/2009

length for an Anna's, and put the hummers through their paces in a wind tunnel. He and Dudley found that the hummingbirds with enhanced tail feathers suffered only a 3.4 percent drop in their maximum speed. This corresponded to an 11 percent increase in energy needed to fly at high speeds.

For moderate and low speeds the speeds at which hummingbirds typically flit from flower to flower and hover the long-tailed birds expended considerably less extra energy.

While other studies are needed to establish whether the same holds true in all bird families, Clark said, "I think that in most birds with long tails, the long tail is not costly."

Clark is writing his Ph.D. thesis on tail feather variation among the 330 known species of hummingbirds, which occur only in the Americas. Last year, he and fellow student Teresa Feo described how the Anna's hummingbird flares its tail feathers to generate a chirp at the bottom of its display dive.

In this new experiment, Anna's hummingbirds were the controls to discover whether very long tail feathers create enough drag to significantly affect flight performance. In visits to Jamaica, Clark collected five pairs of long tail feathers from red-billed streamertails, which molt their feathers once a year and then re-grow them. Eight of a streamertail's 10 flight tail feathers, called rectrices, are of moderate length slightly more than an inch long but the two feathers next to the outside pair are about 19 centimeters (7 inches) long. (Of the approximately 60 hummingbirds with long tails, all but the red-billed streamertail have the outer pair of tail feathers elongated, as opposed to the next-to-outer pair.)

He first glued two streamertail shafts to two of an Anna's own feather shafts and placed the bird in a wind tunnel to see how its metabolism was affected by hovering or flying into a breeze of up to 35 miles per hour, or 15 meters per second. He enticed the hummingbird to feed in fli
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert  

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