Hummer Adaptations: The Tail

Balance and Style
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  • Hummingbird tails have fewer tail feathers (10) than most birds have (12). This reduces the hummer's weight to save energy when flying.

  • Hummer tails, like the tails of other birds, help them to steer and to balance. The muscles controlling the feathers and tailbone can move the tail up and down to allow sudden stops to hover at a flower, or to zip away when a big bumblebee approaches! When it's full speed ahead, the tail straightens out so the hummer is streamlined.

  • Hummer tail feathers are stiff enough to brace a perching hummingbird without getting frayed. Even though they frequently scrape on branches, hummer tail feathers are sturdy. Remember, each tail feather must last a full year!

Try This! Go Fly a Kite!
  • If you have ever tried to fly a kite, you know how important a tail is! If you haven't, well, get out there and try it!
  • Paper airplanes don't have a tail. How does this affect their flight? Do they make sharp turns? Can they stop in mid-air and then go again? Have a paper airplane contest to see whose airplanes can fly the farthest. No way could we humans fashion a paper airplane with the fine controls of a hummingbird's body!