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What Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Types of Hummingbird Food

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Hummingbird Profile

Pollen and insects can often be seen on humminbirds' bills.

jeffreyw

All backyard birders know that hummingbirds readily drink sugar water, but what other hummingbird food sources are there? Understanding what hummingbirds eat can help you plan an attractive backyard buffet that will tempt these tiny birds.

Hummingbird Nectar

Nectar, either from suitable flowers or sugar water solutions, is the most abundant and most popular source of hummingbird food. The large amount of sucrose in nectar gives hummingbirds the necessary energy for their high metabolism and energetic lives. Because nectar is liquid, it also supplies the birds’ necessary water, and hummingbirds do not typically drink from other water sources, though they will use water for preening and bathing.

Other Hummingbird Food Sources

In addition to nectar, hummingbirds eat a variety of other items to get adequate nutrition, including…

  • Insects: Small insects, larvae, insect eggs and spiders are critical food sources for hummingbirds. Insects provide the fat, protein and salts the birds cannot derive from nectar, and these are crucial nutritional components, especially for rapidly growing hatchlings. Hummingbirds may hunt insects in several ways, including gleaning them from bark, flowers or leaves, hawking them from the air or plucking them from spider webs or sticky sap. To get the required amount of protein for a healthy diet, an adult hummingbird must eat several dozen insects each day.

  • Sap: When nectar is scarce, hummingbirds will sip tree sap from wells drilled by woodpeckers. While the tree sap is not as sweet as floral nectar, it still provides an adequate source of sucrose for a hummingbird’s energy needs.

  • Pollen: Hummingbirds do not directly consume pollen, but a great deal of pollen can be stuck to their tongues and bills when they sip nectar from flowers. Some of that pollen is ingested, and it can be a minor source of protein. Less than 10 percent of the ingested pollen is actually digested, however, which shows that while viable, this is not a common food source for hummingbirds.

  • Ashes and Sand: Some hummingbirds have been observed eating ashes and sand in small quantities. These foods can be a good source of vital minerals and salts, but not much is needed to fulfill a hummingbird’s dietary needs.

Attracting Hummingbirds With Food

Understanding what hummingbirds eat will help you plan a backyard feeding station to sate hungry hummingbirds. To attract hummingbirds with the right types of food…

  • Plant native flowers and flowering shrubs and trees that produce nectar-rich blooms. Red flowers will attract the most birds, and choosing hummingbird flowers that bloom throughout the season will ensure an adequate nectar supply for months.

  • Avoid spraying for insects or spiders in the garden or around your home. Rely on hummingbirds and other insect-eating birds to provide natural pest control.

  • Use hummingbird feeders filled with a proper sugar solution to simulate natural nectar. Red feeders will attract hummingbirds, and a hummingbird nectar recipe of four parts water to one part sugar is closest to the sucrose levels of popular flowers.

  • Provide nearby perches for hummingbirds to defend their favorite feeding areas. Many hummingbirds are extremely territorial, and they will use a perch as a lookout point for intruders.

Hummingbirds may be popular summer visitors at nectar feeders, but they eat many other things. Just as a good backyard feeding station will provide different types of birdseed and other suitable foods, providing different hummingbird foods ensures that these beautiful birds never leave your yard hungry.

Photo – Ruby-Throated Hummingbird © jeffreyw

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