What are hummingbirds' predators?

CurioCity writer
23 January 2012

This article was reviewed and updated in August 2017 by the CurioCity team.

Hummingbirds could be called Mother Nature’s jewelry. They hover brightly among the garden flowers. They’re so beautiful that it's hard to imagine anyone or anything preying upon them

So do they have enemies? What are they?

Did You Know? Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.

Hummingbirds move quickly, and can change direction quickly. These qualities make them a difficult prey to stalk. Difficult, however, is not impossible, and even these sprightly birds can fall prey to a number of predators.

Hummingbirds’ nests are sometimes raided by snakes, chipmunks and squirrels. This doesn’t happen all that often, though. That’s because most hummingbirds position their nests at the ends of rather thin branches that would not support the weight of an unwelcome intruder.

Cats commonly hunt and catch hummingbirds. They are not the hummers’ natural predators, though. They only stalk the birds that visit the special feeders installed by people in their backyards. You can easily protect the hummingbirds from this predator – just install the feeders too high for the cats to reach, at least 1.2 metres above ground. Make sure the feeders are also outside the range of good hiding places for cats. That way, the hummers will have a good view of these sometimes unusually high jumpers, and will be able to get away.

A number of other birds prey upon the hummingbirds. These birds include orioles, roadrunners, herons, jays and even hawks. But only the best of the avian hunters can successfully hunt a hummingbird. To catch a hummingbird, a predator bird must be extremely skilled and swift! This is why you may sometimes see hummingbirds taking on and even overcoming birds as large as hawks, especially in defense of a nest or a migratory path. Such bravery from a creature so tiny is especially admirable!

While hummers’ small size often works to their advantage, it also invites some unusual predators. Hummingbirds use spider webs to construct their nests. But collecting this valuable building material is very risky. A hummer may get trapped in an active web, where it a spider might swaddle and eat it - much like a spider would do to an unsuspecting insect caught in the web!

Another highly successful hummingbird hunter from the arthropod world is a praying mantis. These garden insects can pose motionless for hours and then strike with speed lightning. Such excellent hunting skills pose a real danger to hummingbirds, especially the ones that come to visit backyard feeders. Larger species of the praying mantis, such as the big Chinese Mantid that has been imported into North America from Asia, are especially dangerous to hummingbirds. And there are occasional reports of hummers being hunted by flying insects such as dragonflies or other large carnivorous flies.

Did you know? Hummingbirds’ feet evolved to be as light as possible to help with their flight. They cannot hop or walk on their feet but shuffle from side to side due to their small size

Why are all these insects after the hummingbirds? Perhaps it’s because hummingbirds feed on flower nectar, which infringes on the insect territory. But this trespassing is not that brazen – hummingbirds and insects tend to visit different types of flowers. The shape of the flower and the sugar content of the nectar determine their preferences.

Many people are surprised to learn of another rather successful hummingbird enemy – humans themselves! Human activity often interferes with hummers’ nesting habitats and migratory paths. And one too many unsuspecting hummingbirds have met their end by flying into all those sparkling clean, nearly transparent backyard windows and doors. You can use this as an excuse to dodge the cleaning bullet next time your parents ask you to wash that glass!

So there you have it – even creatures as nimble and graceful as hummingbirds are not immune to predation. But knowing about the dangers they face can help us save them from at least one of their foes: ourselves.

This answer was researched and written by Inna Sekirov. Inna studies microbiology at the University of British Columbia and tries to make sure that no creature, great or small, escapes her attention.

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