What do hummingbirds eat besides nectar?


Anatomy and flight ability

distribution and habitat

Hummingbirds only live in South America, North America, and the Caribbean. They occur from southern Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. They live in semi-deserts, in the forest areas on the Amazon and in temperate zones in the deciduous forests of Chile. They are found almost everywhere in southern North and South America, except in the sub-Antarctic and Boreal zones. Of the 330–340 species, almost 130 live near the equator. Only a dozen or so species live in North America north of Mexico, most of them in the southwestern United States. The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the only one breeding in eastern Canada and the USA. The pennant tail only lives in Jamaica (Trochilus polytmus), the male of which has a tail up to 17 cm long.

The pigeon tail (Macroglossum stellatarum) is a butterfly that lives in Europe and Asia. Standing in the air, it sucks nectar in flowers with its trunk and is therefore sometimes mistaken for a hummingbird.


The hummingbirds feed mainly on flower nectar. This very energy-rich food makes the power-sapping flight style possible in the first place. The hummingbirds are particularly attracted to flowers with a striking red or orange color. More than 7000 hummingbird-pollinated plant species in 404 genera and 68 families are known.[4]

In addition to nectar, hummingbirds also eat small amounts of insects and spiders to ensure a sufficient supply of protein. Pollen and pulp are completely indigestible for hummingbirds and are therefore not ingested.

Coevolution with forage plants

The oldest representatives of hummingbirds and their forage plants in a geographical region, such as North America or the Caribbean, are of the same age in evolutionary terms.[5][6] After colonizing one of these regions, the hummingbird lines were diversified and / or other lines were colonized. The situation is similar with the hummingbird-pollinated groups of plants. Here, too, new species emerged and / or hummingbird-pollinated species emerged in other groups of plants that had not yet been pollinated by hummingbirds.

Most species of hummingbird feed on the nectar of a variety of plant species. Only a few species with a highly specialized beak shape - such as the sword-billed hummingbird or the sickle-billed hummingbird - eat the nectar of a smaller but exclusive group of plants that are not accessible to other hummingbird species due to their flower morphology. Due to the extreme beak and flower shapes of these species, it was long assumed that these plants would coevolve with their hummingbirds.[7] However, the latest research has shown that extreme dependencies of a hummingbird species on a group of plant species can also have arisen in the course of the evolution of this hummingbird species and that the plant species involved are accordingly younger than the pollinating hummingbird species.[8]


In order to arouse interest in the females and make them ready to mate, the males perform a courtship dance. After mating, the females build a tiny nest made of cobwebs, plant wool, lichen or moss. The nest is built hidden in a bush or tree at a low height. The female lays two eggs two days apart. The brood lasts 14 to 19 days. The young are then fed up to 140 times a day for 3–4 weeks. To search for food, the females drop out of the nest and slide to the ground like a leaf. This makes it much more difficult for nest robbers to locate the hidden nest.


Natural enemies of the hummingbirds are snakes, birds of prey, cats and martens.


The German paleoornithologist Gerald Mayr from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt discovered what are probably the world's oldest hummingbird fossils in the Unterfeld mine in Frauenweiler in Baden-Württemberg (district of Wiesloch). He describes in the trade magazine Science the discovery of two fossils over 30 million years old that resembled the American hummingbirds living today.[9] These are the first hummingbirds to be found in the Old World.

The skeletons are about four centimeters long, have a long beak to suck up flower nectar and wings that enable them to hover in place. They show the typical characteristics of today's hummingbirds.

Mayr named her Eurotrochilus inexpectatus - "unexpected, European hummingbird".

Keeping as an ornamental bird

Hummingbirds are considered difficult to keep pet birds. One of the few species that are also kept by private individuals is the violet-eared hummingbird, which has already been bred.



  • Dieter Poley: Hummingbirds: Trochilidae. (= The New Brehm Library. Volume 484). 3. Edition. Westarp Sciences, 1994, ISBN 3-89432-409-0.
  • Helmut Folger: Hummingbirds: their way of life and attitude. Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-8001-7073-6.
  • Scott Weidensaul: Hummingbirds: Flying Diamonds. Karl Müller, Erlangen 1990, DNB 910530017.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ BirdLife International: Hummingbirds. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  2. Duden Volume 7 - Dictionary of Origin - Etymology of the German Language. 3. Edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim / Leipzig / Vienna / Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-411-04073-4.
  3. ↑ Christopher James Clark: Courtship dives of Anna's hummingbird offer insights into flight performance limits. In: Proceedings of the Royal Society: B. Volume 276, No. 1670, 2009, doi: 10.1098 / rspb.2009.0508 (freely accessible online publication)
  4. ↑ Abrahamczyk, S. & Kessler, M .: Morphological and behavioral adaptations to feed on nectar: ​​how feeding ecology determines the diversity and composition of hummingbird assemblages. Ed .: Journal of Ornithology. Volume 156, 2015, pp 333-347.
  5. ↑ Abrahamczyk, Stefan & Renner, Susanne S .: The temporal build-up of hummingbird / plant mutualisms in North America and temperate South America. Ed .: BMC Evolutionary Biology. Volume 15, 2015, p.104.
  6. ↑ Abrahamczyk, S., Souto-Vilarós, D., McGuire, J., Renner, S. S .: Diversity and clade ages of West Indian hummingbirds and the largest plant clades dependent on them: a 5-9 Myr young mutualistic system. Ed .: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. Volume 114, 2015, pp. 848-859.
  7. ↑ Abrahamczyk, S., Souto-Vilarós, D., Renner, S. S .: Escape from extreme specialization: passionflowers, bats and the sword-billed hummingbird. Ed .: Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Volume 281, 2014, S.20140888.
  8. ↑ Abrahamczyk, S., Poretschkin, C. Renner, S. S .: Evolutionary flexibility in five hummingbird / plant mutualistic systems: testing temporal and geographic matching. Ed .: Journal of Biogeography. Volume 44, 2017, pp. 1847–1855.
  9. ↑ Gerald Mayr: Old World Fossil Record of Modern-Type Hummingbirds. In: Science. Volume 304, 2004, pp. 861-864, doi: 10.1126 / science.1096856