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Results from studies using digital particle imaging velocimitry (DPIV) indicate that hummingbirds get 25 percent of their lift capacity from the upstroke beating of their wings; the other 75 percent of the lift comes from each downstroke. Insects, in contrast, divide the work equally, getting 50 percent of the lift from each, and other types of birds rely solely on the downstrokes.

“What the hummingbird has done is take the body and most of the limitations of the bird,” Douglas Warrick of Oregon State University says, “but tweaked it a little and used some of the aerodynamic tricks of an insect to gain hovering ability.”