Hovering is a unique ability in the bird world. It allows birds to stay in one place in the air, without moving forward or backward. This is an amazing feature, considering that birds fly by flapping their wings.
To hover, birds must generate enough lift to counteract the force of gravity. They do this by flapping their wings very rapidly, or by using the wind to their advantage.
The bird species that are known for their hovering capabilities are Hummingbirds, Kestrels, Terns, Hawks, Bee-eaters, Swallows, Swifts, and Nightjars.
Among them, hummingbirds are the most well-known hovering birds. They can hover in place and even fly backward, thanks to their specialized flight mechanisms.
These birds all use hovering for different purposes. Hummingbirds use it to feed on nectar, while kestrels use it to hunt for prey. Terns use it to scan the water for fish, while hawks use it to survey their territory.
Table of Contents
The hovering abilities of the Hummingbird vs Kestrel vs Kingfisher
|Wingbeat (beats per second)
|7 – 13 cm
|50 – 80
|Figure-eight wing rotation
|Specialized wing structure and muscle
|Prolonged (seconds to minutes)
|20 – 30 cm
|4 – 5
|Flapping and gliding
|Strong wings and flight control
|Shorter (brief moments)
|17 – 20 cm
|8 – 10
|Rapid wing movements
|Sharp, streamlined bill
|Occasional during fishing dives
Types of birds hovering
True hovering is when a bird generates all of its lift by flapping its wings. This is the most energy-intensive type of hovering, and it is only used by a few bird species, such as hummingbirds.
Wind hovering is when a bird uses the wind to help it generate lift. This is a less energy-intensive type of hovering, and it is used by a wider variety of bird species, such as kestrels, terns, and hawks.
Hummingbirds: The Masters of Hovering
Hummingbirds have specialized flight mechanisms. They also have several other unique physical characteristics and adaptations that enable them to hover. These include:
- Very small body size: Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world. The smallest hummingbird, the bee hummingbird, is only about 2 inches long and weighs less than a penny. This small size helps hummingbirds to generate lift more easily.
- High metabolism: Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any animal. This means that they need to eat a lot of food in order to survive. They typically feed on nectar, which is a high-energy food source.
- Long, thin beaks: Hummingbirds have long, thin beaks that are adapted for feeding on nectar. Their beaks are long enough to reach the nectar at the bottom of flowers, and they are thin enough to fit into small flowers.
- Long, thin tongue: Hummingbirds have long, thin tongues that are adapted for sucking up nectar. Their tongues are covered in tiny hairs that help them to collect nectar from flowers.
- High-speed flapping: Hummingbirds flap their wings very rapidly to stay in one place. This high-speed flapping also helps them to generate lift.
- Feathers that reflect UV light: Hummingbirds’ feathers reflect UV light, which helps them to see flowers more easily.
Birds with Hovering Ability Except Hummingbirds
The white-throated needletail is a small, slender bird that is found in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. It has a long, thin bill and a forked tail.
The white-throated needletail is one of the fastest birds in the world. It can reach speeds of up to 160 miles per hour! This speed helps it to catch insects in flight.
The white-throated needletail also has a unique way of hovering. It flaps its wings very rapidly, and then it tilts its body forward so that it is almost vertical. This allows it to hover in one place and scan the air for prey.
The European kingfisher is a small, colorful bird that is found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It has a long, pointed bill and a blue-green body.
The European kingfisher is a master of hovering. It hovers over the water, looking for fish. When it sees a fish, it plunges into the water and catches it with its sharp bill.
The scarlet honeyeater is a small, colorful bird that is found in Australia. It has a red body and a black head. The scarlet honeyeater is a nectar feeder, and it often hovers in front of flowers to feed.
Black-shouldered Kite: The Aerial Hunter
The black-shouldered kite is a medium-sized bird of prey that is found in Africa, Asia, and Australia. It has a black head and shoulders, and a brown body.
The black-shouldered kite is an aerial hunter. It hovers over open areas, looking for prey. When it sees prey, it swoops down and catches it with its sharp talons. The black-shouldered kite preys on a variety of animals, including rodents, birds, and reptiles.
The black-shouldered kite is a popular bird with photographers. This is because it is relatively easy to photograph, as it often hovers in one place. This allows photographers to get close-up shots of the bird.
Eastern Spinebill: The Hummingbird of Australia
The eastern spinebill is a small, nectar-feeding bird that is found in southern and eastern Australia. It has a black head and body, with a white stripe on its forehead and a red bill.
The eastern spinebill hovers in front of flowers in a way that is similar to hummingbirds. It uses its long, thin bill to reach the nectar at the bottom of flowers.
The eastern spinebill is not as good at hovering as hummingbirds. This is because it has a smaller body and a shorter wingspan. However, the eastern spinebill is still able to hover for short periods.
The Science Behind Birds Hovering Ability
When a bird hovers, it is essentially creating a lift that is equal to its weight. This means that the force of the air pushing up on the bird is equal to the force of gravity pulling down on the bird. Two main forces contribute to lift:
- Bernoulli’s principle: This principle states that the pressure of a fluid decreases as its velocity increases. When a bird’s wings move through the air, the air on the top of the wing moves faster than the air on the bottom of the wing. This creates a pressure difference, with the pressure being lower on the top of the wing. This pressure difference creates lift, which pushes the bird up.
- The angle of attack: This is the angle at which the bird’s wing meets the air. The greater the angle of attack, the more lift is generated. However, if the angle of attack is too great, the wing will stall and the bird will lose lift.
Which birds of prey can hover?
Some birds of prey can hover, including:
- Kestrels: These small falcons are known for their ability to hover in the air while they search for prey.
- Swallows: These birds are known for their graceful flight, and they can also hover while they search for insects to eat.
- Eagles: Some species of eagles, such as the bald eagle, can hover while they search for prey.
- Vultures: Vultures are also able to hover, and they use this ability to search for carcasses of dead animals.
What is the biggest hovering bird?
The biggest hovering bird is the Andean condor. These large birds can weigh up to 33 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 10 feet. They can hover for long periods while they search for food, such as carrion.
The ability to hover is a unique and fascinating trait that is found in a variety of bird species. This ability is essential for their survival, as it allows them to feed, hunt, and mate.
If you ever see hovering birds how would you react? Let us know your expectations and experience if it happened to you once.
Can swallows hover?
Yes, swallows can hover. They use their wings to create lift and stay in one place in the air. This allows them to search for insects to eat.
Can an eagle hover?
Some species of eagles, such as the bald eagle, can hover. They use this ability to search for prey, such as fish or small mammals.
I am a writer and blogger who is passionate about birds. I write to inspire and educate others about the beauty and importance of avian species in our ecosystem. I love to watch birds flying and taking their photographs to capture those memories.