UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Visual control of hovering in Anna's hummingbirds Goller, Benjamin


Relatively little is known about how sensory information is used for controlling flight in birds. A powerful method is to immerse an animal in a dynamic virtual reality environment to examine behavioral responses. The research comprising this dissertation investigated the role of vision during free flight hovering in hummingbirds to determine how optic flow –image movement across the retina– is used to control body position. We filmed hummingbirds hovering in front of a projection screen with the prediction that stationary patterns would allow a hummingbird to maintain stable body position, but moving patterns would change hovering stability. When hovering in the presence of moving gratings and spirals, hummingbirds lost positional stability and responded in the direction of the stimulus motion. There was no loss of stability with stationary patterns (Chapter 1). How sensitive are hummingbirds to visual motion? We predicted that small changes in the direction of a looming motion would result in matched changes in backward flight response of hummingbirds. Providing stationary visual patterns in combination with looming spirals was predicted to rescue hovering stability. Our results suggest that hummingbirds are not only sensitive to small changes in motion direction, but also sensitive to any visual motion of the background, even when large stationary features are present (Chapter 2). The sensitivity of hovering hummingbirds to visual motion suggested that other senses might be involved to stabilize flight. When docked with a feeder, hummingbirds gain a stable physical reference through bill contact. We predicted that tactile feedback during docked feeding would provide the necessary stationary reference to help hummingbirds override their sensitivity to visual motion. We built an instrumented feeder that measured how much a docked hummingbird pushed laterally and vertically. Hummingbirds were not very precise during docked hovering and pushed against the feeder in an attempt to stabilize left, right, and downward visual motions. Upward motion was not matched by pushing against the feeder (Chapter 3). Collectively, these experiments demonstrate that hummingbirds control hovering position by stabilizing motions in their visual field both when hovering in space and when docked with their bill inserted into a flower.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International