Slow-Mo Lets Us See How Hummingbirds Use Their Tongues Like Pumps

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Hummingbirds are mysteriously efficient feeders—and in this video we finally see why. Not only are they precise fliers, they’re precise and creative lickers. Watch a hummingbird’s tongue at work.

Hummingbirds have grooved tongues. These grooves made researchers think that the birds filled their tongues with nectar via capillary action—the same force that draws water up from the roots of a tree. This was disproved when a group of scientists from the University of Connecticut took a closer look at birds drinking nectar from clear artificial flowers.


Although the tongue has the ability to use capillary forces to pull nectar up the groove in a tongue, this only happens when they misjudge the angle of attack and accidentally bend their tongues out of shape on the side of the flower. When they get their preferred angle, they collapse their tongues flat as they push them out, then expand them again when the tongues touch the liquid, using the tongues to suck liquid into the grooves and get as much food with each flick as they can.

Here’s an ultra-slow-motion video of the phenomenon.

[Source: The Royal Society]