Hummingbirds are tiny and may seem like no more than a mouthful, hardly worth the bother of any predator looking for a meal, but in fact there are a wide range of predators that will eagerly hunt hummingbirds at feeding areas, nesting areas or favorite perches. By learning the most popular hummingbird predators, backyard birders can take steps to help protect hummingbirds from becoming an untimely meal.
Typical Hummingbird Predators
While an adult hummingbird may not seem like a significant source of food for a human, to an animal predator, a hummingbird can be a quick, tasty snack filled with sweet nectar and good sources of fat, particularly during the late summer and early fall when hummingbirds fatten themselves up for migration. Many predators won't think twice about hunting hummingbirds, such as:
- Domestic and feral cats, which may even consider hummingbirds as playful toys
- Large insects such as praying mantises and orb-weaver spiders
- Large snakes and lizards
- Large frogs and fish that may mistake low flying hummingbirds for insects
- Avivorous birds such as the loggerhead shrike and greater roadrunner
- Small birds of prey like the American kestrel, merlin or sharp-shinned hawk
- Owls that may spot roosting hummingbirds when the birds are more defenseless in torpor
These predators will often stake out feeding areas, such as hummingbird feeders or flowerbeds, and wait for a hummingbird to come within range before striking. When hummingbirds feed, they are focusing on the food source more than any surrounding threats, and those few moments of sipping can put them at great risk from savvy predators.
Egg and Chick Predators
Many hummingbird predators may not be fast enough to make a meal of an adult hummingbird, but unhatched eggs and chicks still in the nest are easy targets. Predators that can feast on young hummingbirds and hummingbird eggs include:
- Snakes and lizards
- Corvids such as jays, crows and ravens
- Tropical omnivorous birds, such as toucans
- Large songbirds such as orioles, tanagers, grackles and large flycatchers
- Squirrels and chipmunks
To help protect their eggs and chicks, many hummingbird nests are heavily camouflaged with bits of leaves, lichens and moss, and some hummingbirds will deliberately build their nests on the thinnest branches that will not hold up the weight of a stalking predator.
Protect Hummingbirds From Predators
Backyard birders can take a number of steps to help protect their local hummingbirds from various predators. Useful options include:
- Placing baffles above and below hummingbird feeders, and positioning feeders so they are far away from areas where predators could be concealed.
- Taking strong steps to discourage feral cats and always keeping pet cats indoors.
- Carefully monitoring hummingbird nests to watch for threatening predators, but being cautious so as not to overly stress the female parent hummingbird or draw undue attention to the nest.
- Watching for and relocating any predatory insects, lizards or snakes far from hummingbird feeders or nests.
- Providing sheltered perches for resting hummingbirds so they aren't exposed to predation.
- Creating bird-friendly landscaping that includes adequate shelter for tiny birds, including thorny shrubs that can be used as secure nesting sites that can naturally exclude most predators.
- Hanging hummingbird feeders high enough to dissuade predators, and far from railings predators can use to reach feeding birds.
Despite even the most vigilant efforts, hummingbirds will occasionally succumb to predators. When this happens, it is also important to realize that it is part of the cycle of nature, and the strongest hummingbirds will survive to pass their better genes and survival skills on to the next generation.
Other Fatal Threats to Hummingbirds
While hummingbird predators are a significant threat to these tiny birds, artificial threats can be just as devastating to local hummingbirds. In addition to being aware of predators that may cause harm to hummingbirds, backyard birders should take steps so that their yards are not another threat the birds face.
- Change hummingbird nectar frequently and keep hummingbird feeders clean. Spoiled nectar can cause disease and even death to hummingbirds from fungus that can grow in the rotten sugar.
- Minimize bird window collisions by placing feeders at appropriate distances and breaking up reflective surfaces that can confuse birds. Even a light impact can be fatal to a bird as small as a hummingbird.
- Eliminate chemical pesticide use that is not only killing an important food source for hummingbirds, but could also be causing toxic buildup in the birds' bodies.
- Be aware of local bird rescue centers and bird rehabilitators that are licensed to care for sick or injured hummingbirds so any birds that do run afoul of predators can be given proper emergency care.
Like all birds, hummingbirds are at risk from predators and other threats, but being aware of what creatures may be on the lookout for a hummingbird snack and what major backyard hazards hummingbirds face can help backyard birders take steps to protect their flying jewels.
Photo – Hummingbird and Praying Mantis © jeffreyw