What Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Hummingbirds are small, jewel-colored birds native to North and South America. These are the smallest birds in the world, ranging in weight from 1 to 20 grams (0.03 to 0.7 ounces). The largest hummingbird is the Giant Hummingbird and the smallest is the Bee Hummingbird. 

These birds have long, thin bills and can hover in mid-air, fly backward, and upside-down while their wings move at incredible speeds, averaging 53 beats per second. They can fly very fast, reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour (88 kilometers per hour)

Hummingbirds primarily eat nectar and are important pollinators because they visit so many flowers each day, quickly sipping nectar from each flower before flitting to the next. In addition, hummingbirds also eat small insects that they find sitting on the flowers they visit.  

What Do Hummingbirds Like to Eat the Most?

Many flowers produce a sweet liquid called nectar that attracts animal pollinators to the flower and encourages them to visit other flowers so that the plants can reproduce. The flowers of each plant species have many structural designs that attract different types of animal pollinators.

All hummingbirds are attracted to brightly-colored flowers that have a tubular shape leading to the nectar. Red flowers are the most attractive color to bird pollinators like hummingbirds and the least visible to insect pollinators like bees. 

Hummingbirds seem to prefer the nectar of red flowers over other flower colors when they visit a garden. They especially prefer tubular flowers such as bee balm, foxglove, impatiens, petunias, columbine, daylilies, hollyhocks, and lupines. 

Studies have shown that the red flower color stimulates photoreceptors in birds’ eyes, making them far more visible to birds than other flower colors. This is likely why hummingbirds seem to favor red flowers over other flower colors. 

what do hummingbirds eat
Adult male Anna’s Hummingbird in Santa Cruz, California.

How Often Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Hummingbirds have a very high metabolism, so they must eat constantly to sustain their swift movements. Their high-speed flight and rapidly beating wings require a lot of fuel to survive. The nectar these birds consume has a high sugar content, giving them plenty of fuel.

Because their bodies consume calories rapidly, hummingbirds must eat every 10 to 15 minutes to meet the demands of their high metabolic rate, which is greater than the metabolic rate of any other animal on the planet. 

Depending on the species, hummingbirds eat more than half of their body weight per day in nectar and insects. These birds must stay active constantly during the day because they are always at risk of starving if they do not eat often.

At night, hummingbirds lower their metabolic rate and enter a torpor state to save energy and avoid starving to death overnight. During the day, their hearts beat up to 1260 beats per minute, depending on the species, but lower to around 50 beats per minute at night

How Much Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Hummingbirds eat plenty of nectar each day, but they also need protein to power their muscles. These birds capture small insects that they find on flowers, in the air, or caught in spiderwebs. The insects must be small enough to be swallowed whole by the bird. 

Depending on the availability of insects where the hummingbird lives, they can eat thousands of insects each day. When flowers are blooming, hummingbirds can also eat up to their weight in nectar daily, especially when they are preparing to migrate. 

Before their annual migration, hummingbirds must consume and store more calories than usual to make the often long-distance trips to their overwintering grounds. Some hummingbirds even have to cross the entire Gulf of Mexico without stopping to reach their winter habitat in Mexico.

How Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Hummingbirds have long, thin beaks that they can use to insert into flowers and are specially designed to reach the nectar at the base of long, tubular flowers, such as bee balm. They hover in mid-air in front of a flower and insert their beak into the nectary at the base of the flower. 

A hummingbird’s tongue is forked, which helps it to efficiently lap up the nectar inside a flower. When hummingbirds eat insects, they only eat small insects because they must swallow them whole. Hummingbirds cannot rip larger insects into small pieces.

What Do Baby Hummingbirds Eat?

Baby hummingbirds are extremely tiny and must grow rapidly because they fledge within three to four weeks after hatching. Within those few short weeks, their mother is their only caretaker and must visit her nest two to three times an hour to feed her young.

Like their adult parents, baby hummingbirds eat nectar and small insects. They must eat every 20 to 30 minutes and require more protein than the adults need to support their rapid growth. Mother hummingbirds eat far more arthropods than nectar during the nesting season.

When the mother returns with a meal for her nestlings, she carefully regurgitates the captured food into their mouths. This regurgitated food is a mushy mixture of nectar and insects that her babies can easily digest.

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