Want to know about the hummingbird diet? It’s actually a quite common question for anyone who wants to start a hummingbird garden or loves these small birds.
When hovering near flowers with sweet nectars, one might glimpse a small and unique bird called the Hummingbird. With bright feathers and wings which make humming sounds when making flight, these birds are the smallest migratory birds.
Hummingbirds are considered one of the most fascinating birds ever from nearly 350 known species. Unlike other birds, they do not migrate in flocks but are lone rangers who like to fly alone, basking in the mysteries of nature.
On rare occasions when they fly in a community, also called a bouquet, their vibrant colors create shimmer, and the flapping of their wings becomes a musical tune, a treat for the ears.
Small and unique, these birds need the right nutrients to survive. Moreover, Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly high and backward, giving them an advantage when collecting nectar from flowers using its beak.
Their bodies need protein and energy, which is essential for them to sustain themselves. They are seen hovering around flowers or fruits rich with nectar, one of the essentials in a Hummingbird’s diet.
Many people want to have the calming presence of these birds in their gardens. A bouquet of hummingbirds is the perfect addition to one’s outdoor garden, adding a touch of nature’s serenity and glitter to a homeowner’s life. Let’s learn what Hummingbirds eat and the proper way to feed them.
Importance of Diet for Hummingbirds
Despite their tiny bodies, they are entirely the foodie!
One of the most important things to understand about Hummingbirds’ diet is that it is not simply a sugar and water concoction. Many nature lovers put out sugar water for Hummingbirds to consume.
According to Kelsey Waddell, an expert from Wildbirdscoop.com, a Hummingbird cannot survive beyond a few days with a sugar-water and nectar diet (Crossley). Their diet also needs arthropods or small insects which do not have vertebrates.
The sugar they consume from the nectar and sugar water is an energizer. Once they have enough sugar inside them, the Hummingbirds gain energy to hunt for small insects like mosquitoes, gnats, small flies, and even tiny spiders (Kaufman and Kaufman).
Why do Hummingbirds consume in such a manner?
People may be surprised to know that Hummingbirds eat three to four times their body weight per day. One of the main reasons for this is that they burn many calories when moving. Their bodies may be small, but they have a high metabolism. These birds cannot walk nor hop, opting to perch sideways when using their tiny legs. Their wings can flap up to 2000 to 3000 times per minute, which requires their tiny bodies to keep consuming nutrients.
Natural Diet of Hummingbirds
Summarizing from the points above, a Hummingbird’s diet has two parts: sugar or nectar for energy and arthropods for survival.
A Hummingbird’s typical diet includes sugar and water in the ratio of 4:1, but it may vary across species. Their tongue has tube-shaped channels that curl around the nectar and trap it. There is no estimate on how much sugar they can consume, but according to experts, a gallon of sugar water can feed at least 60 Hummingbirds daily.
It is no surprise that one Hummingbird visits hundreds of flowers per day. They are always on the go and require a diet high in nutrients. These birds constantly eat sugar or sweet nectar because they use up energy rapidly.
While sugar energizes them, protein, vitamins, minerals, and calcium are their main source of diet for sustenance. These birds need a certain level of muscle mass which varies across each species. They get nutrients from backyard insects, tiny invertebrates, or arthropods. One may glimpse a Hummingbird fluttering around the branches of new leaves to search for tiny caterpillars.
Their favorite food is spiders. Rich in protein, Ornithologists estimate that around 60% of a Hummingbird’s diet consists of spiders. Hummingbirds snatch spiders and other insects from cobwebs, but if trapped in the web, the Hummingbird cannot free itself and may die. Hence, this method needs precision and cunningness on the Hummingbirds’ behalf.
They also hunt for mosquitoes, small beetles, flies, gnats, etc. Sometimes, they not only suck out nectar but use their long beaks to pull out small insects inside the flowers (Friedman).
Hummingbirds hunt for insects in many ways. Many people are unaware of the fact that Hummingbirds do not have any sense of smell but possess a sharp eye for colors.
Combined with their speed and backward-flying wings, Hummingbirds can sprint to places within seconds to hunt for insects. They can catch insects with their wings and poach small insects from spider webs. Hummingbirds prefer insects that they can swallow whole because their beaks are too narrow to tear their food apart.
Some partnerships work wonders, and the case of Sapsuckers and Hummingbirds is no different!
When migrating long distances, Hummingbirds may only sometimes get access to nectars, especially in winter when flowers dry up. However, they have a clever partnership with Sapsuckers, a species of Woodpeckers (Journey North). These Sapsuckers often migrate from other countries and appear in winter and early spring in the USA. This is when the tree’s saps are sweet and strong. These Sapsuckers drill into trees, looking for liquid and food, which is bountiful for itself and its fellow birds like the Hummingbird.
The Ruby Throated Hummingbirds tail the Sapsuckers throughout winter. The tree saps are substitutes for nectar to them, and they feed on the holes the Sapsuckers leave behind to feast on the liquids.
A small side-note here. The Hummingbirds do more than dine and sprint. They return the favor to the Sapsuckers by shooing away other birds who may try to suck out the saps from the holes. The Hummingbird indeed looks out for its buddy!
Hummingbirds Migration and Seasonal Diet
To fly across countries to migrate, Hummingbirds must keep themselves constantly fed. However, it is nearly impossible for the birds to eat all the time during the migration period. Firstly, they might only find insects and flowers in some places to consume. Moreover, the absence of a fellow Sapsucker might also be daunting.
So what’s the solution?
To keep themselves nourished, the Hummingbirds double their food intake even more than their usual supply. In short, they have to eat four times their weight!
By doing so, they are storing extra fat and energy in their tiny bodies, enabling them to fly long distances for days without worrying about their energy depleting. This is called hyperphagia, the process to store fat (Perky Pet).
However, even Hummingbirds cannot survive on stored fat when it becomes too cold. Their metabolism is too high, and even the fat they store can run out fast.
In this case, they do the Torpor!
It is one of the most intriguing features of a Hummingbird. A perky and energetic bird by nature, they even enter a winter gloom to survive. The Torpor process is like hibernation; the birds sleep to slow down their heart rates. By default, their metabolism also falls, and they can store much fat in that state. Unlike hibernation, however, the duration of Torpor is short. The birds might be up and flying within hours!
How can nature lovers help hummingbirds?
There are two things to remember here. Firstly, research about Hummingbirds can help nature lovers to understand their dietary needs. Simply providing nectar and sugar water will not be feasible.
Secondly, many bird feeders make the mistake of adding red or orange dyes to the food. This is not only unnecessary but can also be harmful to the birds.
According to Wild Bird Scoop, a website dedicated to preaching the healthy way to take care of wildlife, red dye puts average human beings at risk of tumors and other diseases. While there is no conclusive proof of how it affects Hummingbirds, nature lovers should try to avoid using this in Hummingbirds’ food.
Instead, it is suggested that bird feeders try to use commercially made nectars specifically made for Hummingbirds. The red dye-free, packaged nectars are considered a safe option for the birds.
Another point to note is that since Hummingbirds like sweet, sugary nectar, Honeysuckles will be the perfect way to attract these birds. Sugar water can substitute for nectar, but natural plant nectar is the best for their diet.
Moreover, one can take their love for Hummingbirds further by not using pesticides in their gardens (Mayntz). Let the Hummingbirds hunt down the insects and keep the gardens pest-free. Leaving out a few spider nets can also attract Hummingbirds looking for a quick bite!
Growing plants like berries and other fruit trees will also attract Hummingbirds to one’s garden. Moreover, insects will also be attracted to the fruits, leaving plenty of nutrients for the Hummingbirds to hunt for.
For those who want to make some delicious recipes for the Hummingbirds, a bit of fruit slurry with mashed bananas, nectar, sugar, and cake batter will be a start! The right mix of ingredients will keep the little foodies happy!
However, one should remember to put out a bird bowl for them to drink water from. With so much energy and activity, the Hummingbirds can stop for a quick sip of water. Staying hydrated is very important for Hummingbirds; they need a lot of water to keep their bodies active.
Lastly, bird lovers should opt for bright red or orange plates when putting the food out on a tray. The Hummingbirds will rely on their sharp eyesight to spot the vibrant colors and stop by for a quick munch!
Hummingbirds are among the most fascinating birds. They are not unique in features but require a specific diet to keep themselves up and flying with high energy all the time.
By partaking in little acts of kindness and care, bird and nature lovers can provide them with the sustenance and nourishment they need to survive.
So before attracting Hummingbirds to a garden, one must understand their diet and needs and create a wholesome environment for the birds. Starting with small steps can attract many more friendly birds to the gardens, adding much-needed warmth and beauty to homes.