How do hummingbirds clean themselves?

how do hummingbirds clean themselves
Hummingbirds are fastidious tiny birds. They constantly preen their feathers in order to be at their best. Using their beaks and claws, they carefully clean and smooth each feather. Keeping hummingbird feeders clean and adding a shallow bird bath will help hummingbirds stay as clean and healthy as possible.

Hummingbirds are the smallest North American birds. Male hummingbirds have brilliantly colored feathers that they need to keep clean and protected. Female hummingbirds also need to keep clean while they build nests and raise baby hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds need to preen their feathers to ensure they can fly easily and accurately. Find out more below about the hummingbird behavior of cleaning their feathers. Learn how including a bird bath in your space can help these tiny birds.

Hummingbird Cleanliness

Cleanliness is important to hummingbirds. Hummingbirds migrate hundreds of miles each fall and spring. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has about 940 feathers to keep in pristine flying condition. Preening is essential to keep their feathers and bills in top shape. 

During mating season, both male and female hummingbirds work hard. Male hummingbirds defend their territories and food sources and get their feathers dirty. Even daily acts like feeding on nectar from flowers and eating hummingbird nectar make their bills dirty – not to mention their feathers sticky. To clean their feathers, hummingbirds use oil from an oil gland on their back at the base of their tail. 

water in nectar provider
  • First, a hummingbird fluffs his feathers and uses his long bill to nibble each feather. This removes dirt, pollen, and parasites from each featherhummingbird fluffs his feathers and uses his long bill to nibble each feather.
  • Next, they take small drops of oil from their oil gland and work the oil through each feather. This oil works with each back, flight, and tail feather. The oil helps to smooth down the tiny hooks and barbs covering each feather, ensuring the hummingbird can fly properly.
  • Then, they use their tiny claws to scratch the back of their head and neck where they can’t reach with their bill. They scratch off any dirt or parasite on these feathers.

If there are any spots the hummingbird has been unable to reach, he will find small twigs to rub against. The twigs will clean off dirt or leftover pollen, leaving those hard-to-reach feathers clean.

How do hummingbirds clean their beaks?

Hummingbirds use tree branches and twigs to clean their beaks. They rub their bills back and forth across the branch, like a knife going through a knife sharpener. Hummingbird bills get sticky with nectar, and the friction against the tree branch ensures the sugar water comes off.

Along with tree branches, bird baths are an essential resource for hummingbirds. Fresh, flowing water is ideal for supporting hummingbird cleanliness. Hummingbirds use this water to wash their beaks and feathers before preening.

Do hummingbirds drink from bird baths?

Yes, hummingbirds drink from bird baths. Even though hummingbirds get much of their daily water from nectar sources or hummingbird feeders, these little birds still need fresh water.

Hummingbirds prefer moving, fresh water rather than stagnant water. They enjoy flying through misting water or water from fountains. They will even sit out in the gentle rain, letting it coat their feathers and bills to help them preen.

Providing a bird bath to your backyard hummingbirds is easy if you follow a few guidelines.

hummingbird water bath
  1. Keep your bird bath shallow. Hummingbirds don’t walk; they fly and hover. If the water is deeper than about half an inch, the hummingbird won’t be able to touch the ground and could drown.
  2. Add rocks to your bird bath. This will give the hummingbirds a place to perch while they drink and preen.
  3. Consider adding a small fountain or mister to your bird bath. Hummingbirds will enjoy flying through it to feel the water!

Do hummingbirds have an immune system?

Hummingbirds do have an immune system. A recent study about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds indicated that even though hummingbirds have a much higher metabolism than other avians, their immune systems work similarly. Their immune system, just like ours, helps protect them from various diseases, but occasionally they do get sick. Also, like humans, getting exposed to disease makes a hummingbird’s metabolism work harder. Hummingbirds are most likely to fall ill from dirty feeders.

Hummingbirds become most vulnerable to illness during torpor. During torpor, hummingbirds slow their bodies and lower their body temperature by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They must enter torpor each evening to slow their metabolism and sustain their body weight overnight without food.

Hummingbirds will use their bills and claws to clean themselves. They preen each of their feathers with oil from their oil gland. They then smooth the barbs back down so they can fly properly. The cleanliness of a hummingbird will ensure its survival over the long run.

Sarah Pearce

Sarah enjoys feeding hummingbirds in the warmer months, and a range of finches, woodpeckers, and cardinals in the cooler months. She enjoys researching and learning more about birds, gardening, and preserving food. She is learning how to maximize her small city backyard and is amazed at all the possibilities. She lives in southwestern Indiana with her family.

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