Birds usually moult their feathers in a particular sequence which may incur aerodynamic, physiological and behavioural implications. Among birds, hummingbirds are unique species in their sustained hovering flight. Because hummingbirds frequently hover-feed, they must maintain sufficiently high flight capacities even when moulting their flight feathers. A hummingbird wing consists of 10 primary flight feathers whose absence during moult may strongly affect wing performance. Using dynamic similarity rules, we compared time-accurate aerodynamic loads and flow field measurements over several wing geometries that follow the natural feather moult sequence of Calypte anna , a common hummingbird species in western North America. Our results suggest a drop of more than 20% in lift production during the early stages of the moult sequence in which mid-wing flight feathers are moulted. We also found that the wing's ability to generate lift strongly depended on the morphological integrity of the outer primaries and leading-edge. These findings may explain the evolution of wing morphology and moult attributes. Specifically, the high overlap between adjacent wing feathers, especially at the wing tip, and the slow sequential replacement of the wing feathers result in a relatively small reduction in wing surface area during moult with limited aerodynamic implications. We present power and efficiency analyses for hover flight during moult under several plausible scenarios, suggesting that body mass reduction could be a compensatory mechanism that preserves the energetic costs of hover flight.
Natural Sciences in General