How does a hummingbird eat?

Spotting a hummingbird in your backyard can be a fleeting but rewarding experience. That’s because hummingbirds do everything in such a hurry that they can be difficult to sight!

Because of their hurried behavior, hummingbirds have been tricky to research and study at length, leading to many misconceptions about how they drink. Did you know that scientists used to believe that hummingbirds used their beaks as a straw? Find out how exactly a hummingbird eats, what their beaks are used for and how much nectar they can consume.

Does a hummingbird have a tongue?

A hummingbird has a tongue that can stretch twice as long as its beak. Their tongues are forked and are lined with lamellae, which are tiny, hair-like barbs that extend outwards as they open their beaks and stick out their tongues. When they retract their long tongue back into their beak, it coils up inside their head, wrapping around their skull. The average hummingbird’s beak can range from 15mm-21mm (.59in-.82in) in length, meaning its tongue can stretch up to 1.6 inches long! [Image credit: Bob Lewis, www.wingbeats.org]

hummingbird tongue

How does a hummingbird drink?

As a hummingbird extends its tongue into a flower, dish or nectar feeder port to drink, the lamellae spread from the forks in their tongue, capturing the nectar by quickly curling back up towards the tongue and trapping it as the tongue fully retracts into their head. Hummingbirds can flick their tongues in and out of nectar as many as 20 times per second!

hummingbird drinking

What do hummingbirds use their beaks for?

If they don’t use their beaks as a straw, then what purpose does a hummingbird’s beak have? Hummingbirds have a flexible lower beak that helps them snatch insects in flight. Some also use their beak for self-defense, often against other hummingbirds for territory assertion. Perhaps the simplest use for a hummingbird's beak is as a protective covering for their tongue.

How much does a hummingbird drink per day?

A hummingbird can consume about half of its body weight in sugar water per day and can feed about 5-8 times per hour.

hummingbird drinking nectar from feeder

What do hummingbirds eat?

Have you ever wondered how a hummingbird can live off of sugar water alone? The short answer is - they don't. Even if a hummingbird visits your feeder several times throughout the day, they are often out scavenging for tiny insects and spiders that supply protein and other essential nutrients. A hummingbird’s diet may consist of 50-60% insects. Because of this, we recommend homeowners avoid the use of broad-spectrum pesticides in their yard, as it could potentially eliminate this crucial protein source that makes up a healthy hummingbird diet.

 

Now that you know more about how a hummingbird drinks, try setting up a hummingbird feeder and filling it with your own homemade nectar!



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