Audubon for Kids

The Hummingbird Wing Beat Challenge

In this activity, kids see if they can flap their arms as fast as a hummingbird flaps its wings. All you need is a stopwatch.

Hummingbirds are amazing flyers. They are one of the few animals that can hover, which means remaining in one place in the air without moving forwards or backwards, up or down. To do this, they have wings shaped to the purpose and really strong muscles. And they flap their wings really fast—faster than any other bird at up to 70 wingbeats per second. That adds up to more than 4,000 wingbeats per minute!

In this activity, kids see if they can flap their arms as fast as a hummingbird flaps its wings. All you need is a stopwatch.

First, have your child or children hold their arms out like wings. Ask them to practice flapping. See how long they can keep up an easy flapping pace, about one flap per second, before they get tired.

Ask if their arms ache a bit from flapping. They should notice that their outer chest muscles and arm muscles are tired. Explain that since we walk to get around, our leg muscles are often more fully developed than our chest muscles. Some birds, like turkeys, chickens, ostriches, and other walking birds, also have stronger leg muscles. Hummingbirds are such good flyers, they almost never walk. What do they think hummingbird legs look like? (Answer: They’re tiny!)

To compare the different wing beats of birds, your kid will participate in a Wing Beat Challenge! Show them the Wing Beat Table below. Ask them make a hypothesis and guess which bird they think they can match.

Start with the flapping rate of an American Crow, an American Robin, then a Rock Pigeon. By the time you get to the European Starling, they should find it impossible to keep up.​ You can remind your child that it’s ok if they can’t beat their arms that fast—birds have adapted their bodies and muscles to be able to fly quickly!

Bird Species                                                                                                   

Wing Beats/10 second

American Crow

20

American Robin

23

Rock Pigeon

30

European Starling

45

Black-capped Chickadee

270

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

500

Math extension: Calculate wingbeats per minute, based on your 10-second wingbeat rate (multiply by six). If you have multiple people in your house, kids can graph each person’s wingbeat rate. 

This activity was adapted for the home from Audubon New Mexico's Camp Programs at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”