If you’ve ever wondered “what do hummingbirds eat”, wonder no more. Ornithologists have figured out the hummingbird’s diet and lifestyle, and have provided insight into supporting these birds and their habitats.
This is essential information for birders that want to see these hummers around as much as possible.
Typically, hummers feed on flower nectar from tubular-shaped flowers like honeysuckle and bee balm, small insects (like gnats, ants, aphids, fruit flies, mosquitoes, and wasps), larvae, insect eggs, tree sap, sugar water (homemade nectar) from hummingbird feeders.
For such tiny birds with such low body weight, they sure eat a lot of sweets!
So if you want to see hummers in your garden, hummingbird feeders are the best option because they are easy to use and clean.
Table of Contents
Hummingbird Food Facts
For a balanced and healthy diet, hummingbirds have to eat things other than nectar, which doesn’t cover their need for protein.
Hummingbirds are pollinators with incredibly long tongues, perfect for getting all that sweet juice from long tubular flowers. Hummingbird tongues don’t suck the juice from flowers; they work more like a dog’s tongue.
Nectar and sap have a high quantity of amino acids and sucrose, perfect for balancing their high metabolism.
They eat the tree sap from the holes woodpeckers and sapsuckers make in trees.
Hummers have many methods of capturing insects (especially arthropods), but the most common ones are hove-gleaning and hover-hawking. Thus, hummers can eat small insects by hawking them mid-air, plucking them from spider webs, or gleaning them from tree bark and leaves.
They can enter a state of hibernation called “torpor,” generally used to help them fight off cold weather, but it’s also used to help them not starve because it helps them slow down their speedy metabolism.
Hummingbirds typically have to gain a lot of weight before migration. Because they travel long distances, they must gain at least 30-40% of their body mass.
Nectar is the primary energy source for hummers all around – and if you look at its composition, you might not understand why they like it so much (it only consists of sucrose and water).
The truth is that hummingbirds need so much nectar because they need a lot of energy. All that wing flapping, migrating, and fast heartbeats need something to keep them going.
Because of this, nectar is digested quickly. So fast that ornithologists never got to see it in the hummer’s stomachs.
But some species may drink more nectar than others. For example, Anna’s Hummingbirds are the primary pollinators in North America, so their nectar intake can be outstanding.
Most people imagine that hummingbirds eat almost exclusively nectar. It seems that hummingbirds feed on insects (like arthropods) more often than previously thought, and studies show this. Studying the contents of their stomachs revealed other insects as well, like wasps, gnats, leafhoppers, aphids, and beetles.
Sometimes diet varies by species of hummingbirds: Ruby-throated and Black-chinned Hummingbirds eat more protein than their counterparts, and a large part of their diet includes spiders. Allen’s hummingbirds also eat a lot of protein and usually pick bugs off spiderwebs.
Nectar provides energy; insects offer vitamins, minerals, and proteins important for normal functioning.
Maple tree sap is one of the favorites for hummers.
For hummers, you could say that this is an alternative for nectar. And given their relentless energy, they need other options at their disposal.
Rufous hummingbirds, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, broad-tailed ones, and Calliope hummingbirds stay around the same places where sapsuckers drill holes in. They’ve been known to follow them around to find their food sources.
Hummingbirds drink nectar, but they can drink water too. They can sip water droplets from leaves in your back garden, but you can help them by putting out a birdbath or a mister.
Ripe fruit and fruit juices
It seems that hummers can’t have enough of all that sweetness. They’ve been known to suck the juices from ripened apples.
Grit, sand, and ash
Sometimes hummingbirds can eat sand and fine gravel. The reason for this is that these may give them their necessary intake of minerals and calcium.
Hummingbird Feeding FAQs
What do baby hummingbirds eat?
Baby hummingbirds eat the same thing as adult hummers – albeit their mother chews the food for them in the first three weeks. They need all the nutrition they can get before preparing to leave the nest.
How do I make nectar?
Recipe: add 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.
When making your very own hummingbird nectar recipe, make sure not to add artificial sweeteners, as these can be toxic for hummers.
What do Hummingbirds Eat – Summary
These pollinators are so crucial to maintaining the life cycle of plants that I think it’s essential that we better understand their ecosystem.
You, too, can help feed these hummers, especially when resources are scarce and there are a lot of them (e.g., Anna’s Hummingbirds stay in place even during the winter, so it may be harder for them to find food sources then).
You can leave homemade nectar feeders at their disposal, but if you want to take it a step forward, you can plant hummingbird vines to get all the natural nectar they need. Some of the plants you can put in your garden are honeysuckle, cardinal, petunias, fuchsia, butterfly bush, or columbine – just to name a few.
They’re especially attracted to red tubular flowers that are perfect for their long tongue that can reach even through the narrowest tubes.
They also love anything red, so you can use this color to attract them – but don’t use red dye to do that; instead, you can tie a red ribbon to a bird feeder to catch their attention.
Regarding insects, don’t fret: Your backyard will have enough around for them to snatch.
Now that you know what hummingbirds typically eat, you can start bird-watching them properly and get the benefits of their lovely presence.