Subject: Hummingbirds: God’s Helicopter in Our Gardens

Job 12:7,9 “Ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you… Who among you does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”

Ed Croteau

I heard my first hummers of the summer before I saw them. They move so fast – up to 55 mph. They get their name from the humming of their wingbeat, which is on full display when they are doing something only they can do – hover like a helicopter. No other bird sounds or moves like a hummingbird.

Our ruby-throated hummer beats its wings 75 times each second when hovering at a flower to eat. The ability to hover, as well as maneuver in any direction, has never been explained as an evolutionary adaptation. Instead, it is easily explained as an irreducibly complex machine, from an intelligent designer.

Bird expert John Morton, of Wildbirds Unlimited, explains how hummers manage to hover, fly backwards and sideways, even upside-down: “They have the unique ability to gather enough food only because of the unique design of their wingbeat, which allows them to move forward to pierce the flower, hover until they get enough nectar, and fly backwards to remove their bill from the flower. When they arrive at a flower, they stop abruptly and hover in front of it. They do this first by tilting their body at an angle of 45 degrees. The wing-beat can now be back and forth instead of up and down. In most birds the up-stroke of the wing is just a recovery stroke to get the wing back into position for the next down-stroke. But they have power in both strokes, up and down, and when hovering, back and forth. Their wings can also swivel in all directions from the shoulder. And the wing is straight, without the elbow-like bend in the middle like other birds.”

A straight wing like an airplane, with a pivot joint at the wing’s attachment to the shoulder, is a design feature that enables hovering, sideways, backward and upside-down flight. No other bird can do this. In his June 2017 article ‘Avian Acrobats of the Americas’, Tom Henningan explains: “Other birds’ wings must constantly move through the air or they will stall and crash. Fixed-wing planes can’t hover, either, for the same reason. The only way helicopters can perform this wonder is by a complex combination of designs that channel the engine’s energy to turn a rotor with blades that create their own controlled airflow (like a mobile fan pointing downward). How do hummingbirds create their own airflow without spinning blades?

Everything about the hummingbird must be perfectly balanced to achieve maximum airflow at minimum cost. Somehow, hummingbirds solve a host of engineering problems that boggle the mind. Hummers can also pivot their entire wings at the shoulder, producing thrust on the upstroke, too. Their unique ball-and-socket joint in their shoulder lets them rotate their wing instantly in either direction—up to 180 degrees!

This allows them to constantly push the leading edge of their wing through the air, even on the upstroke. The crazy-eight motion also moves the wings through more air, increasing their efficiency. Their pivoting wings allow them to remain stable while hovering, without bouncing up and down. And this design explains how they can change directions at the drop of a hat. With slight variations in their figure eight, they can also slide sideways and do other acrobatics.” Scientists have not isolated any gene sequencing, nor have paleontologists discovered any transitional fossil, that can explain this irreducibly complex operating system for flight. The obvious answer is that their wing and joint structure didn’t evolve. It’s a design.

But there’s more than just the system design – it’s also the very specific operating angles: “When hovering, each complete beat of the wing describes a figure of eight. As the wings move backward (the up-stroke) they are tilted so that the underside of the wing is facing upward. At the end of the stroke they flip over so that the underside of the wing is facing downward to the normal position again. To fly backward the wing is tilted slightly so air is forced forward.” It isn’t enough to have the joint at the shoulder with the straight wing. The flight pattern must be meticulous or the hummer just burns its fuel source and drops to the ground.

What powers the precision of this wing system’s operation? Again, unlike any other bird, the hummer has powerful breast muscles that make up over one-third of its total body weight. Their wing design, the ball-and-socket joint design, the wing motion, and their breast muscle structure are a complex system of joints, muscles and bone that had to all be there simultaneously to create such an amazing flight capability.

Rather than making up evolutionary stories to explain hummingbirds, just turn to the Old Testament book of Job and read our verse for this week. Our God tells us where hummers came from – He made them!

Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at