Nectar loading by hummingbirds

We present the results of a combined experimental and theoretical investigation of the dynamics of drinking in ruby-throated hummingbirds. In vivo observations reveal elastocapillary deformation of the hummingbird’s tongue and capillary suction along its length. By developing a theoretical model for the hummingbird’s drinking process, we investigate how the elastocapillarity affects the energy intake rate of the bird and how its open tongue geometry reduces resistance to nectar uptake. We note that the tongue flexibility is beneficial for accessing, transporting and unloading the nectar. We demonstrate that the hummingbird can attain the fastest nectar uptake when its tongue is roughly semicircular. Finally, we assess the relative importance of capillary suction and a recently proposed fluid trapping mechanism, and conclude that the former is important in many natural settings.

See paper: Kim, Peaudecerf, Baldwin & Bush, Proc Roy Soc B (2012) .