Although the avian world is home to countless unique creatures, the hummingbirds, perhaps the smallest members of the kingdom, continue to draw attention to themselves. There’s a lot about these birds that can fascinate a birder; the sound their flapping wings make, the mystery behind their fragile feet, the shining, metallic coloration of their plumage, and so on.
When it comes to the things that make the hummers so interesting, how can we forget about their diet? It is common knowledge that nectar is the primary food source for these birds. But why is that? Can’t they eat anything other than nectar? What about seeds?
Do hummingbirds eat seeds? No, hummingbirds don’t eat seeds. As you can gather from the very shape of their bills, these birds face difficulties in cracking the seeds open and eating them. Moreover, they also lack a gallbladder, which is essential to break down fats from their food. And since seeds are rich in fats, the hummers cannot digest them.
Did you just spot a hummingbird on your seed feeder? Perhaps you might’ve misread the situation. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the possibility of hummingbirds eating seeds, including their dietary requirements and anatomy.
Why can’t hummingbirds eat seeds?
In the introduction itself, we figured out that the hummers cannot eat seeds. But have you ever wondered why that is? Well, there are two primary reasons behind it, and we’re going to discuss both of them. Let’s get started:
Hummingbirds possess a fragile bill
As you might have noticed, the hummers possess bills relatively longer than their bodies. These bills are not only long but also remarkably thin, as they’re well-adapted to drinking nectar from flowers with long tubes.
Since drinking nectar or sap requires no special force, their bills are not bestowed with the strength one would require to crack open the seeds and eat them. Therefore, attempting to eat seeds can put undue stress on the hummers’ bills and might even result in a broken bill.
Their digestive system lacks a gallbladder
It is no secret that the hummers lead a highly active lifestyle; to accommodate this, they need a high metabolism rate.
In order to digest food quickly, the digestive system of these birds has evolved to function without a gallbladder, an organ that breaks down fats present in their foods. And because hummers don’t have a gallbladder, they will naturally have difficulties eating fat-rich foods like seeds.
What do hummingbirds eat instead? The hummingbird diet
In the last section, we explored why hummers cannot survive on a seed-based diet. But if these birds cannot eat seeds, what else do they consume for nutrition? That’s what we’ll learn about in this section.
Hummingbirds require a lot of energy to maintain their lifestyle, as we’ve already discussed earlier. These are the fastest birds in the entire aviary world and possess the ability to flap their wings 70 times a second. And when they’re on a speed dive, the hummers can even go at 200 wing beats per second.
To accommodate that kind of wing movement, these birds are also blessed with strong wings. Along with strong wings, they also have the ability to store protein in their bodies for long periods, which comes in handy during migration. But since they can only store protein, it makes sense that their diet revolves around this particular nutrient.
Now, let’s take a deeper look into their diet. If you break a hummer’s diet down categorically, you’ll find that they only eat nectar, sap, and insects. And if you’re curious about what purpose these foods serve for the hummingbirds, keep reading.
Nectar is undeniably the most common part of any hummingbird’s diet. The long bills of these birds are specially designed to easily consume nectar, which also contributes to their protein-rich diet.
You might have noticed how the hummingbirds dip their bills into flowers to suck their nectar. This results in sticking pollen grains to their bills, which are more or less also consumed and ingested by the birds. However, it is important to note that pollen is not an essential component of a hummingbird’s diet.
Earlier in the article, we’ve already established that while the hummingbirds have long, thin, and fragile bills. So, you can’t expect these birds to drill holes in trees, can you? So, how else do they access the tree sap?
Well, the ecosystem has a better solution to their needs. As you know, the woodpeckers also rely on tree sap and insects as food sources. And their strong beaks can easily perform the extensive drilling holes into tree barks that lead them to the sap. So, the hummingbirds can simply suck out the remaining sap using the very same holes afterward.
Because tree sap is not as sweet as nectar, it is not an ideal food for the hummers. However, in times of food shortage, it can help them survive.
Did you know that insects are the richest source of protein for hummingbirds? Because they are! If you want to explore which insects are commonly consumed by the hummers, take a look:
- Insect eggs
Can you guess a feature that all these insects have in common? Well, they are all soft-bodied, which works in favor of the hummers since their fragile bills don’t allow them to eat hard-textured foods.
Hummingbirds are fast, and their quick actions come in handy in catching insects and eating them within seconds. Moreover, the insects have no fat, unlike meat, which makes them a pure source of protein. And while hummingbirds do not actively seek insects, feeding on them can benefit these birds a great deal.
Hummingbird Nectar: Why do hummingbirds need it?
If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that hummingbirds need a protein-rich diet in order to maintain their fast, active lifestyle. But is protein the only nutrient the hummers need? Not really. In order to have a balanced diet, these birds also need to consume amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
To add these nutrients to the hummingbirds’ diet, we feed them the Hummingbird Nectar, a high-energy sugar solution that serves as an element of sucrose in their diet. You can easily make hummingbird nectar by mixing one part of white sugar with four parts of water.
If you want to mix sugar with water more conveniently, you could also heat the water initially. However, make sure you let it cool down properly before serving the nectar to the hummers.
It is also important to note that the usage of artificial sweeteners or honey, molasses, and fruit juice can be fatal for hummingbirds and must be excluded while preparing hummingbird nectar.
What about water?
So far, we’ve learned that the primary diet of a hummingbird is already liquid-based (because of the nectar and sap), which must fulfill any fluid requirement they need. But does this mean that the hummers don’t require water at all? Sure, they do.
While the hummers might not need water to drink, they still need it to bathe and preen themselves. Therefore, having a freshwater source in their vicinity can be added bonus for these little birdies.
Attracting hummingbirds to your yard using food
Are you trying to attract hummingbirds to your backyard? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. These colorful little birds are loved by most birders. Following are some quick tips and tricks that can help you attract the hummers:
- Hummingbirds dip their long bill into the flower to consume nectar. Therefore, planting flowers with long and tapered shapes, bright colors, and rich levels of nectar can help you attract them. It is also beneficial to plant longer blooming plants that can be a reliable food source for the birds all year round; for example, Bee balm and cardinal flowers.
- Place hummingbird feeders at a comfortable location and fill them with the hummingbird nectar to add nutrients to their diet. These feeders usually look similar to a bright flower with a store of nectar, which is how they attract the hummers.
- Avoid using pesticides and insecticides in your garden. The presence of living insects around the plants of your yard can help attract more hummingbirds to it.
As long as you keep these factors in mind, you will certainly see the hummingbirds in your yard sooner or later.
With this, we come to the end of the article. Let’s recap everything we’ve learned so far: hummingbirds cannot eat seeds because of their fragile bills. Moreover, the absence of a gallbladder in their bodies also restricts them from eating fat-rich foods like seeds.