Aeroelastic Flutter Produces Hummingbird Feather Songs

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Science  09 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6048, pp. 1430-1433
DOI: 10.1126/science.1205222

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During courtship flights, males of some hummingbird species produce diverse sounds with tail feathers of varying shapes. We show that these sounds are produced by air flowing past a feather, causing it to aeroelastically flutter and generate flutter-induced sound. Scanning laser doppler vibrometery and high-speed video of individual feathers of different sizes and shapes in a wind tunnel revealed multiple vibratory modes that produce a range of acoustic frequencies and harmonic structures. Neighboring feathers can be aerodynamically coupled and flutter either at the same frequency, resulting in sympathetic vibrations that increase loudness, or at different frequencies, resulting in audible interaction frequencies. Aeroelastic flutter is intrinsic to stiff airfoils such as feathers and thus explains tonal sounds that are common in bird flight.

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