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Hummingbird Vision

January 10, 2017

Hummingbirds have vision that’s specially tuned to fast movement in every direction.


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Specialized neurons in the brains of Anna’s hummingbirds are tuned motion from every direction. (Susanne Bard)


What hummingbird see. I’m Bob Hirshon.

As we move through our environment, objects appear to move past us in one direction, and most animals have brain cells that are specialized to perceive that kind of motion. But not nature’s little helicopters. Hummingbirds have brain cells tuned to motion coming from every direction as they hover in midair or zoom from flower to flower. University of British Columbia neuroscientist Andrea Gaede explains.

ANDREA GAEDE (University of British Columbia):

They’re essentially monitoring all directions equally.


Gaede’s team reports in Current Biology that the tiny birds’ brains are also specially tuned to fast movement. These unique features may help them catch insects, stabilize their flight, and pursue mates. But Gaede says their motion detection system could also inspire human innovation, such as the design of better drones, and could even provide insights into neurodegenerative movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.


Story by Susanne Bard