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Electrostatic Charge on Flying Hummingbirds and Its Potential Role in Pollination

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Electrostatic phenomena are known to enhance both wind- and insect-mediated pollination, but have not yet been described for nectar-feeding vertebrates. Here we demonstrate that wild Anna's Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) can carry positive charges up to 800 pC while in flight (mean ± s.d.: 66 ± 129 pC). Triboelectric charging obtained by rubbing an isolated hummingbird wing against various plant structures generated charges up to 700 pC. A metal hummingbird model charged to 400 pC induced bending of floral stamens in four plants (Nicotiana, Hemerocallis, Penstemon, and Aloe spp.), and also attracted falling Lycopodium spores at distances of < 2 mm. Electrostatic forces may therefore influence pollen transfer onto nectar-feeding birds.

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