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Knowing true facts over false claims about hummingbirds will make the difference between harming or saving your hummingbird friends. Becoming informed will not only add to colorful conversation but will provide insight and will help correct the record on some common hummingbird misconceptions and myths.
What are some hummingbird myths I can ignore?
- A mother hummingbird will abandon her babies if touched by a human.
- If a hummingbird hangs upside down it is dead.
- Hummingbirds and bees get along.
- Hummingbirds use their beaks like straws to drink nectar.
- Hummingbirds have feet and can walk around like other birds.
- Hummingbirds are not very smart because they have tiny brains.
- The honking sound a hummingbird makes while performing a dive display is vocal.
- To encourage natural migration, hummingbird feeders should be removed by early fall.
- Hummingbirds only drink nectar from flowers. They do not eat bugs.
- Commercially purchased hummingbird nectar with added vitamins is good for your hummingbird.
- Adding honey to homemade nectar is safe for hummingbirds.
- Commercially purchased hummingbird nectar using red food dye is fresh and healthy.
- Red base hummingbird feeders with yellow flowers attracts hummingbirds.
A mother hummingbird will abandon her babies if touched by a human.
We were told as youths to leave nature alone. By touching a baby hummingbird the mother will smell the human scent and will detour the mother from visiting her nest and attending to her children. It is a common misconception that even I have fallen victim to because of this classic myth. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell and rely heavily on their vision.
In some instances, as the baby hummingbirds grow, the nest becomes cramped and a baby may fall out accidentally. Other times a strong wind can knock the babies out of their nest. Even when the fledglings begin to spread their wings and prepare for flight, they may unintentionally fall out of their nest.
Depending on the developmental stage of a baby hummingbird, newborn babies are naked with no pin feathers. They cannot regulate their own body temperature and need to be kept warm.. Older adolescent hummingbirds can regulate their body temperature.
If you find yourself in a situation where a baby hummingbird has fallen out of its nest, it is perfectly safe to touch a baby hummingbird and put it back in its nest. This will not be detrimental or detour the mother from coming back to attend to her young.
If you feel confident in safely scooping up and returning the baby hummingbird back to its home, it is the best thing you can do. This does not mean you can randomly touch hummingbirds, but if necessary, it is OK to touch baby hummingbirds without using gloves.
Keep an eye on the babies for a few days and wait patiently for the mother hummingbird to come back and feed her young after you have returned them safely to their nest. She should return to the nest to feed her young every 20-30 minutes.
If, after a reasonable amount of time has passed and you are still concerned for a baby hummingbird’s overall health and well-being and feel they need medical or emergency care, check your local animal hospital, shelters or local hummingbird organization for assistance.
If a hummingbird hangs upside down it is dead.
Hummingbirds have been found in precarious situations and have been seen hanging upside down from a feeder from time to time. This is because they simply went into torpor (sleep) at an early stage before flying back home for the night. When this happens, it does not mean that a hummingbird is dead even though all your senses are telling you otherwise.
If the hummingbird is successful and makes it through the night all in one piece, the next phase is for them to wake up from torpor. The least amount of time it takes hummingbirds to recover from torpor is 20 min.
People have seen hummingbirds hanging upside down from a feeder and they seem to magically wake up from their deep sleep, perch upright on the feeder for a few minutes to get their bearings, and eventually access the nectar at their disposal to slowly wake up.
If the hummingbirds are unsuccessful at seeking appropriate shelter at night, nocturnal wildlife such as praying mantises, or cats, have an easy meal and will put a hummingbird’s life in jeopardy.
Hummingbirds and bees get along.
Hummingbirds do not prefer to share their feeders with bees. Most likely you will see bees chase hummingbirds away. Bees are unwelcome guests. Our coveted hummingbirds will visit less often because they do not want to compete for the nectar. Having bees and insects linger around a crowded hummingbird feeder is unattractive.
Finding bees around your hummingbird feeder is common especially during the summer time if your homemade nectar is too sweet. Bees will also remain or linger around your feeder in search of water. Providing a bee-friendly watering station will decrease or eliminate bees coming to your hummingbird feeder for water.
If a bee problem persists try decreasing the ratio to 1 part sugar to 5 parts water.
Remove leaky hummingbird feeders and clean them regularly to reduce and limit the confrontation, interaction and health concerns between both parties. Hummingbirds and bees are important in our ecosystem for helping with pollination but they prefer having their own spaces.
Hummingbirds use their beaks like straws to drink nectar.
Many people have the misconception that hummingbirds use their beaks to drink nectar as if they are drinking out of a straw. Actually, hummingbirds use their “W” shaped tongues to help them lap up nectar 13 times per second. The tiny hairs on the tip of their tongue helps them gain access and absorb nectar from bright tubular flowers. The tongue of a hummingbird is long and narrow and is double the length of their beaks.
Hummingbird hydration is typically satisfied by the nectar they drink during the day. On occasion, they like to find other water sources whether it is from rainfall, residue from watered plants or fountains. Any water that they may happen to consume while part taking a bath or luxuriously sipping extra fluids from a recently hydrated petal is an added bonus, but is not necessary for survival.
Hummingbirds have feet and can walk around like other birds.
A hummingbird’s strength is flying, not walking or hopping like most birds. Their small feet allow them to perch on branches or hummingbird feeders and the rest of the time their feet are neatly tucked underneath them as they fly.
Hummingbirds also use their feet to scratch themselves, similar to how dogs use their back legs when scratching behind their ears. They have four toes on each foot. Three toes in the front and one in the back for support, similar to most bird species. The one toe in the back of the foot structure is called a hallux and it aids in stability for hummingbirds when perching. This is similar to humans using the thumb when holding objects.
The only time a hummingbird displays extra grip strength in their feet is when they do not make it home in time before they go to sleep. They can be seen hanging upside down from a feeder in a deep sleep called torpor.
Hummingbirds are not very smart because they have tiny brains.
A hummingbird’s brain, which weighs less than 5 raisins, has the capacity of being one of the most intelligent of all animals. In relation to their body size a hummingbird’s brain weighs 4.2% of their body weight. An average hummingbird weighs approximately 4 grams. Therefore, a hummingbird’s brain weighs on average, 0.168 grams. To put it in perspective a human’s brain weighs only 2% of their body weight. And we thought our brains were heavy!
Their brains must contain enough fuel to function and consume 20 grams of its own body weight in food every day.
Hummingbirds are extremely confident in their ability to remember every single flower they have visited in a single day, how long it will take for the flower to refill will nectar again, and which flowers hold the most nectar. They visit over 1,000 flowers each day to fulfill their daily intake of nutrition.
Hummingbirds can recognize and tell the difference between each human with whom they come in contact. They will register and see familiar faces with whom they have regular contact. They can determine and identify friends or foe. Once a hummingbird feels comfortable in your presence they will become more like a family pet than an outdoor wild animal.
Hummingbirds are extremely intelligent with highly developed brains and are truly incredible creatures. They should not be dismissed as being dumb due to their tiny stature! They say an elephant never forgets; well a hummingbird’s memory is out of this world!
The honking sound a hummingbird makes while performing a dive display is vocal.
Researchers have performed studies and have discovered that hummingbirds can also make sounds and noises using their tail feathers. For non-vocal communication, hummingbirds use the size and shape of their tail feathers, along with the amount of air that passes through them, make their sound they desire when diving in courtship behaviors. Each species has their own combination and their own tone.
When hummingbirds descend and come to a complete stop at the bottom of their dive, they open and close their tail feathers as a rudder to guide them like a boat. The air that passes through their tail feathers makes a honking sound and is commonly misunderstood as a vocal sound.
This high physical fitness and flying skills demonstration during female flirtation to impress and show off their male dominance, strength and desirable traits, is performed using their tail feathers. The faster the male dives the more vibrations and sounds he can make through his tail feathers attracting the attention of a female hummingbird.
The male performs his courtship dive and makes a honking sound using his tail feathers. As he ascends and flies away to repeat this display, he will chirp his delight using his vocal sounds as if adding a cherry to the top of a sundae. Both sounds happen simultaneously and it is easy to get the two confused.
To encourage natural migration, hummingbird feeders should be removed by early fall.
Hummingbirds have natural instincts to fly south towards warmer climates for the winter. They do not need feeders to be taken down to prompt them to start their journey.There are also some hummingbirds that do not migrate and take up local residence.
The increased amount of freshly available feeders throughout the summer and winter will provide hummingbirds with accessible fuel in anticipation and preparation for the long migration south. Supplying feeders 365 days a year also contributes to their nourishment when food is scarce in the winter for local hummingbird residents that do not migrate.
Having fresh hummingbird nectar available all year round also provides food sources for other migrating hummingbirds who are just passing through on their journey.
Hummingbirds only drink nectar from flowers. They do not eat bugs.
Hummingbirds need to have the right balance of nectar to protein ratio. They do not live off of one over the other. They are a voracious consumer of calories and require between 8,000 – 10,0000 calories of food each day to survive compared to the human who consumes 2500 calories a day. The nectar is digested and excreted within 15 to 20 min, hence they feed every 15 min.
A hummingbird’s diet primarily consists of nectar from flowers but they also eat small bugs and spiders for protein for a well-balanced diet. They can not live off of sugar water nectar alone. Proteins, amino acids, oils and fats aid in a complete healthy diet.
Hummingbirds also eat ants, aphids, gnats, leaf-hoppers, flies, mites, mosquitoes, spiders and daddy long legs for protein. Their favorite protein source to eat are baby spiders. Some experts estimate spiders can make up 70% of their protein and daily food intake. Proteins are essential because it helps to aid and strengthen muscle repair.
During flight a hummingbird’s lower beak is more bendable helping them catch insects with ease in mid flight.
Commercially purchased hummingbird nectar with added vitamins is good for your hummingbird.
There has been discussion that commercial hummingbird nectar with added vitamins can be healthy for the hummingbirds and aid in strengthening the egg shell of a female. I have not found substantial evidence to back this claim. Everything in moderation if you decide to choose this path.
Some commercially purchased hummingbird nectar have food preservatives and red dye #40 along with added vitamins. These are not ideal ingredients for hummingbirds to consume.
Hummingbirds can get their basic everyday vitamins and minerals through a well-balanced healthy diet of protein and nectar. The added vitamins in these solutions are unnecessary. Sugar water has more beneficial properties or nutritional value than commercially made nectar even when added with vitamins.
Adding honey to homemade nectar is safe for hummingbirds.
Hummingbird experts describe adding honey to homemade nectar as dangerous to hummingbirds because hummingbirds can contract a fungal tongue infection called Candidiasis.
This tongue infection is caused by a rapid growth of yeast in the mouth. Patches of white plaque will form in the mouth of the hummingbird. It can be removed requiring professional skill but unfortunately leaves a spot that is red and bleeding. This can cause loss of appetite, loss of sense of taste and can create an unwanted taste in the hummingbird’s mouth.
It is best to use regular cane sugar when making homemade hummingbird nectar. Do NOT use honey or any artificial sweeteners when making your hummingbird homemade nectar.
Commercially purchased hummingbird nectar using red food dye is fresh and healthy.
Commercially purchased hummingbird nectar uses red food dye additives to preserve shelf life of the product and therefore is not beneficial for the health of the hummingbird.
There has been no definitive evidence that commercially purchased nectar using red food dye #40 is harmful to hummingbirds. However, research shows other animals tested who consumed red food dye lost weight, had a poorer survival rate and showed a decrease in reproduction.
While commercialized hummingbird nectar using red food dye is available and convenient to purchase, overtime, the use of red dye #40 will be detrimental to hummingbirds and its cost is significantly more than making your own hummingbird nectar.
Making your own homemade hummingbird nectar is easy and cost-effective using only sugar and water without the added red food dye. It is good advice to avoid red food coloring whether in homemade or commercial hummingbird nectar.
The best homemade nectar recipe is 1 cup of granulated white cane sugar dissolved in 4 cups of water.
Regular cane sugar is best to use. Do NOT use honey, organic sugars or any artificial sweeteners. This will make the hummingbird sick or cause growths and tumors on their beaks prohibiting their ability to consume nourishment. Spring or filtered water is preferred.
It is best to eliminate and not expose hummingbirds to unnatural chemical elements found in these commercial hummingbird nectar products.
Red base hummingbird feeders with yellow flowers attracts hummingbirds.
The common hummingbird feeder is with a clear top, red base and yellow flowers. We assume the experts know best and produce products that will entice our friends to eat and stay a while instead of pushing a wide consumer product for commercial gain.
The actual facts are that bees are attracted to the color yellow. They do not see the color red and instead see it as black. Hummingbirds are attracted to red and not yellow. Having yellow flowers on your hummingbird feeder only attracts unwanted bees on a hot day.
It is best to purchase a hummingbird feeder with an all red base and no yellow flowers. The red base is enough to attract the hummingbirds without using artificial red food dye.
Now that you have accurate information, take this new found knowledge and dominate any hummingbird conversation confidently!
Happy Hummingbird Watching!
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