How Fast Do Hummingbirds Fly and Flap Their Wings?

Updated: Apr. 22, 2021

Learn more about the breathtaking rapid wing speed of hummingbirds. An expert reveals how fast hummingbirds fly and flap their wings.

how fast do hummingbirds fly, wing speedCourtesy Susan Grove
Ruby-throated hummingbird flying near a feeder

How fast do hummingbirds fly? Hummingbird wing speed varies depending on the species. The smaller the hummingbird, the faster it flaps its wings. Ruby-throated hummingbird wings beat about 50 times a second. A rufous hummingbird’s wings beat as fast as 52 to 62 wingbeats per second. The giant hummingbird of the Andes, about the same length as a cardinal, hums at 12 beats a second. The bee hummingbird of Cuba, the smallest bird on earth at only 2 inches from bill tip to tail tip, buzzes along at 80 beats per second.

The advent of high-speed motion photography has allowed scientists to accurately measure and study wing movements that are way too fast for the human eye to see. Hummingbirds flap their wings from about 10 to more than 80 times per second while hovering. They flap their wings even faster during the courtship display dives used by the males of some species. Moreover, hummingbirds can fly very fast, routinely attaining speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour. They triple that speed during those amazing courtship display dives.

anna's hummingbird wing speed, flyingCourtesy Bonnie Toth
Female Anna’s hummingbird in flight

Fastest Flying Hummingbirds

The swiftest hummingbirds fly extremely fast. Christopher James Clark, who has done extensive hummingbird research at the UC Berkeley, discovered that during its courtship dive, the male Anna’s hummingbird folds its wings in to its sides. It achieves an average maximum velocity of approximately 90 feet per second. This is the highest speed every recorded for a vertebrate, relative to size. Even more incredibly, as it pulls up, with wings spread, the bird experiences centripetal accelerations nearly nine times greater than gravitational acceleration.

In short, hummingbirds can fly faster than a fighter jet, relative to size. They can withstand g-forces that would make the average person black out.

Hummingbirds are also experts at hovering, the strategy employed by most species for feeding on the nectar of flowers. They can also fly backward and even, for brief moments, upside down. Discover 13 jaw-dropping facts about hummingbirds.

To learn more, check out The Hummingbird Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About These Fascinating Birds, published by Timber Press.