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Hummingbird Food Options: What, How, When and Why?

Here is everything you need to know about hummingbirds, how they eat, what they eat, what usually attracts them and how to take care of your Hummingbird garden residents.

These are hummingbirds feeding on a flower.

The hummingbird has an extensive appetite. Hummingbirds sustain their diet from nectar-producing flowers. When observing hummingbirds hover between flowers, people assumed that nectar was the only food hummingbirds needed.

However, one could watch these winged jewels feasting on tiny gnats, darting their beaks in the air. Hummingbirds fill up on insects continually.

Hummingbirds subsist on the nectar of flowers and small insects like spiders, larvae, aphids, and flies. Tree sap is an alternate source of sucrose and amino acids. For a hummingbird feeder, use sugar and distilled water, not honey or red dye. Flowers that are colorful and tubular attract hummers.

Flowers to plant in your garden include perennials like Bee Balm, Butterfly Bush, Cardinals, Clove Pink, Coral Bells, Daylily, Foxglove, and Scarlet Trumpet Honey Suckle. Red and orange variations are ideal for attracting hummingbirds. The hummingbird’s constant buzz of wings is the whizzing of 2000 to 3000 flaps per minute.

Its high metabolism and perpetual hovering ensure that hummers eat up to half their body weight a day and their total body weight before autumn’s migration.  

Depending on the breed of bird, from Anna, Ruby-throated, Ruby-topaz, Rufous, or the Bee hummingbird, its wings beat at approximately 50 to 80 times a second. These remarkable, tiny, delicate anomalies achieve extraordinary feats. They can cover 500 miles, without rest, within 18-22 hours.

They are essential pollinators and can visit 1000 to 2000 flowers a day without damaging the flower.

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A hummingbird’s anatomy is unique. For example, hummers have exceptional sight and perceive ultraviolet rays due to an extra cone along their retina. Some scientists have stated that they are adapted to discern warmer tones of reds and orange amongst the overriding green foliage.

However, a few scientists believe that nectar quality provides the conclusive judgment needed for a hummingbird to select flowers. Flowers release ultraviolet rays during specific stages of their lifespan; hummingbirds can detect which flowers offer the most nectar.

Related: Garden Flowers that Attract Hummingbirds | Fuchsia Plant | Flowers Similar to Begonias | Fairy Garden Ideas | Flowers Similar to Cosmos

How to Cultivate a Hummingbird’s Garden

A hummingbird feeding at a garden.

Essential to maintaining a hummingbird sanctum is ensuring you have all the necessary characteristics of shade, security, water, and a varied range of tubular flowers. As mentioned above, hummingbirds are likely one of the most important pollinators; tube-shaped flowers need the curiously shaped tongue of the hummingbird to pollinate. Diversify the range of flowers to attract many of the 340 species of hummingbirds they all have a preference.

Initially, scientists determined that the hummingbird sucked up the nectar from capillary action via the tube-shaped features in its tongue. Now we know that the tiny hummer must work to gain the nectar.

It does this by coiling its tongue around small portions of nectar to insnare as much as possible and laps the nectar by squeezing its beak shut; it repeats this action 15-20 times a second. Usually, tiny insects are in the nectar, nourishing the hummingbird with suitable proteins to develop muscle mass.

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Hummingbird’s tongues have hardly any tastebuds and few salivary glands; they then consume insects whole. You can watch a hummingbird tilt its head back as it guzzles an insect in its entirety. Be mindful of the food chain and don’t spray insecticides. The toxic element not only restricts the food source but sickens the hummingbird.

Although hummingbirds get liquid from the nectar they indulge, they still need a source of water. Set up a water feature that provides a gentle mist; you can buy misters from garden shops. A continuous running stream would make them very happy. A birdbath or water feature with a mister assists the hummingbird in the duteous care and preening of its feathers.

Hummingbirds are territorial and even aggressive. They must have something to alight on when feeding, as to defend their ground better. A perch provides a means to watch over and watch out for larger birds and predators. Maintaining comfort for hummingbirds in your garden is vital; planting a hummingbird vine could provide just the right amount.  

The Right and Wrong Flowers for Your Hummingbird Garden

This is a hummingbird feeding on a purple and orange flower.

To create a tiered platform for your hummingbird to perch, plant dwarf trees and vines, like the Cypress Vine and the Trumpet Vine, that can grow from ground level to 10 feet or more. You can use trellises or trees to support climbing vines. You can get creative but always elevate the space when designing the hummingbird garden, as hummingbirds need space to hover.

The beautiful ballet of hummingbirds is unique to them alone; they are the only birds that can fly in all directions (backward and upside-down) and, most importantly, hover. When planting your hummingbird garden, ensure that there is room for your hummingbirds to hover.

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Although hummers have highly developed sight, their smell isn’t strong; it is vital to use color. They are even attracted to red clothing on a gardener, who they will remember. Grow select plants that are native to your area. Hummingbirds are instinctively acquainted with the natural plants of your location and the seasonal life cycle of plants.

Flowers that produce fragrant scents to attract pollinators, like Roses, Peonies, and Geraniums, offer little value to hummingbirds. Plant consistent species of flowers at different places in your garden. Choose flowers that bloom at various stages of the year, as this will provide an assured, constant supply of food and an overall sense of security to your hummingbird.

Hummingbirds will use bushes like Cattails, Catkins, Pussy Willow, Cinnamon Fern, Thistle, and Dandelions to build their nests. They will also use spider webs, both for the nests and to eat the insects caught in the net. So be careful not to tear these down.

It is always a good idea to learn about the migratory patterns of hummingbirds. Planting flowers that bloom late is useless to your hummingbird garden. Some flowers bloom in the early spring that come into full blossom before the long-awaited end of the migration. Simply being aware and informed will help.

There are hybrid cultivars with the appropriate appearance and pigmentation that ordinarily allures hummers but will not yield sufficient nectar. Hummingbirds will reject these. Be mindful of other plants’ relationship to hummingbirds and their gardens.     

Hummingbird Feeders – Everything you Need to Know

This is a hummingbird feeding on a hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird feeders supplement the diet of the hummingbird. Feeders need to be maintained and can stay in the garden all year round. It is a myth to believe hummingbirds will not migrate if food (or nectar from a feeder) is abundant, as they have their internal clock regulated by a biological rhythm. Feeders will assist late, young, or injured birds before they migrate.

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Fill feeders with a simple solution of distilled water (1 cup) and refined white sugar (¼ cup). Don’t use honey, treacle, molasses, sweetener, or fruit juice as it will grow mold. Don’t use a red dye; the sweet element of the sugar is enough to attract the hummer, and the colorant can cause harm.

Place fruit and bananas around your feeder; hummingbirds are frequently reported to drink in the juice of exposed fruit, which will attract insects.

Get a red feeder with a built-in ant moat and nectar bee/wasp guard tips. Use an array of different shaped feeders, plastic, and glass. Keep away from feeders with yellow ports or decorations, as yellow is attractive to bees and wasps. Avoid any oils or sticky products on the feeders; this will stick and jam the hummingbird’s feathers.

In the heat of summer, the solution could ferment in two days, so be sure to fill the feeder, keeping in mind the frequency in which the hummers will feed. The nectar solution will expand and leak over, attracting unwanted insects, rodents, and possibly bears.

Keep the feeders clean three or four times a week. In hot weather, clean them more. It is imperative to maintain clean feeders as the nectar solution could grow mold or fungus, which will kill the hummingbird. When cleaning the feeders, ensure a thorough sanitization of every inch of the feeder; you can use white vinegar. Take your feeder apart and soak it in boiling water.

Place the feeders strategically throughout the garden, close to the windows or at least 5 feet away, considering potential collisions. Being aware of the possibility of fermentation, mold, or fungus, set up your feeder away from direct sunlight and breezes.  

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Tree Sap, Hummingbirds and How to Attract Woodpeckers

These are a couple of woodpeckers at the tree nest.

In the high elevation locations in the North of the U.S., hummingbirds rely on sap-wells of woodpeckers. Woodpeckers maintain the constant flow of sap. Hummingbirds seize the opportunity granted by the woodpecker’s efforts.  

Tree sap isn’t as sweet as nectar but is a stable food source for hummingbirds, so it’s a good idea to try and attract woodpeckers to your garden. Woodpeckers create wells that allow the tree sap to run; even if it turns solid, it usually contains nutritious trapped insects.

Woodpeckers need the essentials of a happy habitat, adequate nesting opportunities, and an abundance of the right food and water. Grow a suitable variety of trees, oak, pine, fruit trees, and dead tree stumps. Stumps provide an opportunity to build nests as the woodpecker will hollow out the rotting stump.

Feeders filled with acorns, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, sunflower oilers, peanuts, and suet will improve the likely hood of having woodpeckers. Suet is a concoction of fat combined with berries and seeds. You can slather a log in suet, the vertical stem of a tree, or a dead tree stump.

Invest in feeders with perches, remember comfort and security are crucial to keeping your garden birds returning. Woodpeckers prefer vertical feeders, as that is how they instinctively navigate a tree stem.

Woodpeckers are cleft nesters; they build their nests within a nook. Building a nest box or woodpecker house will allot an immediate sanctuary and save the woodpecker time and energy.   

Get hummingbird feeders with larger ports; woodpeckers are also avid fans of the sweet nectar solution. Again, ensure that the feeder has a perch. Woodpeckers enjoy the water at ground level, presented in a natural setting, preferably isolated.

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Although woodpeckers are known to make sizeable holes on the outside wall of your house, happy coexistence is possible. Tree sap from woodpecker holes will bring in more hummingbirds and contribute to the wealth of birdlife in your garden. Attracting woodpeckers isn’t tricky, and the variety of birds is beneficial for your garden’s ecosystem. If they are happy, they will return.

Hummingbirds Eat Sugary Emissions from Branches and Bugs

This is a hummingbird feeding on a fruit tree.

When there are lesions in the bark of tree stems and branches, they secrete a bacteria-filled, sugary substance. These emissions contain a high ratio of sucrose to glucose and fructose. There is a greater content of amino acids in the emissions, significantly higher than nectar. Hummingbirds feast on the gassy substance emanating from lacerations on twigs and branches.   

The discharge isn’t a traditional food form for hummingbirds; the substance rapidly evaporates or hardens when in contact with the sun. However, the excretion remains liquid in inclement weather, permitting more time for hummingbirds to enjoy the nutrients.

Insects also secrete substances high in sugar. Honeydew is an example of scaled insect sugar secretion, which hummingbirds reportedly delight in. Scale-winged insects on the bark of trees emit a minute drop of sweet, transparent fluid. Aphids also secrete sugar dew.  

What Time of Day do Hummingbirds Feed?

Generally, hummingbirds prefer to feed mainly during dawn or dusk, early morning or late afternoon. However, they will consume calories constantly throughout the day. Hummingbirds may even feed at night, especially if there are outside lights. Hummingbirds do fly during the night, as seen during their migration.

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Night flight is mainly for migration. These tiny jewels can’t see properly at night; consequently, the constant foraging of nectar and insects is too challenging. The hummingbird must maintain a constant body temperature of 104 – 108 degrees Fahrenheit.  The incredible anatomy of the hummingbird allows it to go into a deep hibernate state sleep called torpor.

The torpor state lowers their body’s metabolism to 1/15 of regular.  Their temperature will drop to just above hyperthermic. Hummingbird’s heartbeat normally at a rate of 500 – 600 beats per minute at rest and over 1200 beats per minute in flight; it lowers to approximately 50 beats per minute in torpor. This incredible skill permits hummingbirds to conserve up to 60% of their energy every night.

The metabolic temperature rate that the hummingbirds depend on for their survival results from the metabolism of glucose. Hummingbird cannot maintain their required body temperatures at night; torpors are a natural solution and testament to their incredible biology.

Hummingbirds hang upside down when in this torpor state. It appears that they are not breathing; their breathing has significantly slowed down to that point. Even though they may seem dead, they’re just sleeping; even if you touch them, they will probably not respond. They do, however, shiver as a mechanism to generate warmth.

When a hummingbird wakes from its torpor, it will immediately begin to feed. Hummingbirds will consume 25% of their daily intake within the first 20 minutes to an hour after waking.   

Where Do Hummingbirds Live?

This is a hummingbird feeding its offspring at the nest.

Hummingbird habitat is almost entirely limited to the Americas. They live around Canada, Alaska, the U.S.A., Mexico, and the Andes in the Southern American region. They migrate across many varied climatic regions. They have been found below sea level deserts, dense, warm tropical areas, and elevations beyond 16 000 feet.

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Most of the species reside in the tropical regions, while 17 species consistently migrate back to the U.S. to nest during the warmer seasons; many of these make their home just above the Mexican border. The Ruby-Throat lives just east of the Mississippi.

The Rufous hummingbird journeys about 3,900 miles in one direction; this tiny bird (3 inches long) makes the longest journey of all the hummingbirds. It migrates from Alaska to Mexico. Generally, the voyage of the hummingbird takes approximately two weeks.

A hummingbird’s lifestyle is a nomadic one as they rely on the seasonal blooming of flowers at different times of the year. Therefore, their migratory patterns have evolved according to the changing landscape.

Hummingbirds journey through the lowlands during spring and return, taking a route across the mountains in summer. During these long journeys, hummingbirds, it has been discovered, consumes three times their weight.

How Long do Hummingbirds Live?

This is an adult hummingbird feeding on flower.

Typically, hummingbirds don’t survive their first year. However, if they do, they live relatively long years. The banded Ruby-Throated Ruby hummingbird’s record lifespan is six years 11 months, and for the banded Rufous, eight years and one month.

Hummingbird banding is placing a minute, slim, individually numbered band around the hummingbird’s leg. Licensed researchers then track their routines, migration patterns, size, measurements, lifespan, weight, and age. Banding is employed to learn how to conserve hummingbirds.

The oldest hummingbird on record was the banded Broad-Tailed hummingbird. In Colorado 1976, as a one-year-old adult, she was banded. She was then recaptured 11 years later, in 1987, in the same proximate location. She was at least 12 years of age.

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This knowledge is vital, as hummingbirds die through starvation. The process of a hummingbird’s slow starvation is painful and cruel. As climates change, the delicate, fragile plant life that supports hummingbirds is immediately susceptible to the vacillating equilibrium of ecosystems.

Banding monitors a hummingbird’s lifespan and its relationship to decreasing or increasing plant growth. It also observes the subsequent adapting patterns hummingbirds employ to survive better. This assists researchers or scientists in strategizing accordingly for a hummingbird’s conservation.    

Why Do Hummingbirds Like Sand, Seawater, Ash, and Grit?

When designing your garden to accommodate hummingbirds, place some grit next to the feeders. There are countless observations of hummingbirds licking up sand, and scientists surmised that this aids in digestion.

The mineral component of sand further nourishes the energetic, tiny bird. There is a value of nutrients in seawater and ash; they contain essential calcium and help to digest the invertebrate that the hummingbird swallow whole. Generally, female hummingbirds are seen drinking seawater and lapping up sand, probably to replace lost nutrients during egg production.

The hummingbird’s digestive system is like other birds. It has eight parts divided into the beak, gizzard (esophagus), and stomach. The gizzard is a small pouch or pocket that digests the insects consumed by hummingbirds. The abdomen is different as its structure provides a loophole for nectar to pass through straight into the intestine to burn as fuel into muscle mass immediately.

The liver can contain up to 45% of fat during migration. The energy assists hummingbird’s metabolism during long flights. Twice a year, hummingbirds migrate to warmer seasons. Their journeys can span hundreds of thousands of miles. A shocking amount of energy is expended during these voyages.

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Do Hummingbirds Eat Seeds?

This is a close look at a male hummingbird head.

Hummingbirds don’t eat seeds; their anatomy has evolved not to include kernels and grains in their diet. Their long, thin, cylinder-shaped beaks aren’t designed to crack, shred and scoop up seeds. The fast, high speed of their metabolism will not digest grains. The hard shell, hard nut quality of pips must be broken by specialized beaks and specific digestive systems to be enjoyed.

Tooth-billed hummingbirds don’t eat seeds. The serrated-edged, sturdy bill is mainly used to compete for or defend territory. The hummingbird’s tongue is cartilaginous (to a degree). The tip of the tongue is bifurcated; this is structured as two troughs. Each trough claims about 0,4 microliters. The tongue can expand as far as the beak is long, and its rapid action pulls the nectar.  

Hummingbirds are designed solely as pollinators and nectar drinkers. People have reported that hummingbirds appear to be feeding at their thistle feeders.  It is highly unlikely that hummingbirds were eating the seeds; they ate the insects around the feeder.

Conclusion

Hummingbirds are nectar-consuming birds. They sustain their diet on nectar and insects. They have voracious appetites and consume half of their body weight daily.  

The reason for their constant need to eat is that they have exceptionally high metabolisms and require endless energy to survive. Hummingbirds are remarkable. They can detect ultraviolet light from flower emissions due to an extra cone they possess along their retinas.

If you are hoping to attract hummingbirds in your garden, know that they prefer warmer hues of orange and red. Keep in mind the migration of the hummingbird and plant perennials in anticipation of their return. Diversify your flower life, keep it native and elevate the space when planning the hummingbird garden.

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Hummingbird feeders are an excellent way to supplement the hummingbird’s diet and entice them into your garden. The nectar solution that fills the feeder is best at simple white sugar (1/4 cup) and distilled water (1 cup). Absolutely no honey, fruit juice, or red dye, the honey and fruit juice will grow mold, and the die can have harmful elements.

All three can be fatal. Get feeders that have ant traps and perches. Avoid yellow decorations and ports as yellow attracts bees and wasps. Diversify your range of feeders, anything from plastic and glass.

Be aware and mindful when setting up the feeder; keep out of direct sunlight and breezes. Clean your feeder regularly (three to four times a week) and refill every two days. Don’t forget that the nectar solution could ferment and be deadly.   

Hummingbirds rely on tree sap for sucrose, amino acids, and other vital minerals and trapped insects. Developing a hummingbird garden entails a constant source of their essential foods. Endeavor to lure woodpeckers as these will create funnels in tree stems and immediate access for tree sap.

Keep grit, sand, salt, and ash close to feeders; this is an alternate source of nutrients and assists with digestion. Invest in a birdbath or water feature with a mister and gentle, constant running stream. A mister to help them preen and clean is guaranteed to make the tiny gems very happy and healthy.

If you have established your garden to these guidelines, you should have these exceptional, winged jewels returning as constant companions to your garden life.

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Source:

Effie Yeeaw Nature Center: Ask a Naturalist: What do hummingbirds eat?

Audubon: How to Make Hummingbird Nectar

The Spruce: What do Hummingbirds Eat

The Spruce: Tips for Feeding Hummingbirds

The Spruce: Top Hummingbird Flowers

Hummingbird Guide: Hummingbird Food

Hummingbird Guide: Hummingbird Banding

Hummingbird Spot: Anatomy

How to Enjoy Hummingbirds: What Do Hummingbirds Eat ?

Birds Advice: Do Hummingbirds Eat Seeds

Bird Watchers Digest: What do Hummingbirds Eat

Bird Watchers Digest: Hummingbirds Feeding Rules

Wild Birds Online: Myths and Facts Concerning Feeding Hummingbirds

Virtual Museum Canada

Adirondack Council: Facts About Hummingbirds

Perky Pet: Anatomy of a Hummingbird

Perky Pet: Hummingbird Migration Facts

Birds and Blooms: How Fast do Hummingbirds Fly

Birds and Blooms: Facts About Hummingbirds

Modern farmer: Hummingbirds are the Best Pollinators

Almanac: Plants that Attract Hummingbirds

The Spruce: Plants that Will Not Attract Hummingbirds

Birdfeeder Hub: What Time of Day do Hummingbirds Feed

Birdwatching Buzz: What do Hummingbirds Eat

Gardening Know How: How to Attract Woodpeckers

Birdfeeder Hub: How to Attract Woodpeckers To Your Yard (7 Easy Tips)

Audobon: Designing Hummingbird Garden

Hummingbirds Unlimited: Did you know that your hummingbirds need protein too?

Smithsonian’s National Zoo: Where do Hummingbirds Live

Backyard Chirper: Fun facts About Hummingbird Migration

Journey North: Hummingbird Life Cycle

Hummingbirds Plus: How Long Do Hummingbirds Live

Perot Museum: Hummingbirds