The feisty hummingbird was the ancient Aztec god of war, and maybe it still is today, since so many modern warplanes have been modeled on them. Like high-tech fighter jets, hummingbirds use so much food that they need to refuel in mid-flight, and the engineer who invented the helicopter was inspired by the amazing way in which hummingbird wings work.

Jeanna Bryner writes in that hummingbirds can refuel in mid-flight, and they NEED to, because their intricate maneuvers use so much energy that they’re out of fuel from the nectar they consume after just a few minutes of flying. Hummingbirds have the highest rate of energy expenditure of any warm-blooded animal, so they’re always on the edge of starvation, which may be what makes them so aggressive.

Michael Schirber writes in that a hummingbird’s wings get about 75% of their lift from the down stroke and about 25% from the up stroke. Engineers who design airplanes have long been fascinated by this movement, which is similar to the wing movements of insects, except their wing stroke ratio is more like 50-50. In contrast to this, other birds get 100% of their movement from the down stroke of each flap. This hummingbird’s efficient down stroke is the secret to their ability to hover, and it’s likely that Igor Sikorsky, who designed the first successful helicopter in 1942, took careful note of this.

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