Mythbusting: Do Hummingbirds Die When They Stop Flying?

do hummingbirds die when they stop flying

There are many myths about hummingbirds, one of which is that they die if they stop flying. This is thankfully not true, otherwise they would never be able to sleep or sit on a nest.

There are many myths about hummers, so let’s take a look at a few others and do some hummingbird myth busting.

Myth 1

  • Hummingbirds have no feet

This is where the myth comes from that they die if they stop flying, and it’s not true.

They do have feet, but they have been adapted to help them fly. Their small feet are tucked up so you can’t see them when they are in the air. They have also been adapted to help them in flight, as they need excellent control to be able to carry out their in-flight acrobatics.

This does cause them a problem when they land. With their legs at the back of their bodies and the feet designed for flight, it means they cannot walk or hop. If a hummer falls from the nest or is unfortunate to break a wing, they are unable to move, and in cases like this they could die if they don’t get help.

They can perch on branches though, and this is where they digest their food and sleep at night.

Myth 2

  • Hummingbirds only eat nectar

It is true that they love nectar and they certainly need a lot of it in their diet. Nectar provides a hummingbird with instant energy which is vital to keep their high metabolism running. It is also true that you will find them feeding on nectar several times every hour during the day and they certainly enjoy the taste.

However, nectar doesn’t provide all of their nutritional needs, and it certainly doesn’t help baby hummers to grow and develop.

A hummingbird’s diet will include:

  • This comes from flowers and feeders and gives them the high energy they need.
  • Insects and spiders. These provide vital proteins and fats which are needed when they are building up their fat before migration.
  • Tree sap. Not all hummingbirds will eat this, but those that do will also pick up small insects in the bark.
  • Fruit is sweet and hummingbirds love sweet.

Another myth which we can bust right here, is that the hummingbird will die unless it continuously feeds. Just like the myth about dying if they stop flying, if a hummingbird needed to constantly feed it would never get to rest, breed, or migrate. It is true that they feed several times every hour but this is because they have such a high metabolism that a large amount of food is needed to keep it going.

Myth 3

  • Hummingbirds suck nectar

When a hummingbird is feeding it can certainly look as if it is using the tongue as a straw. This is another myth.

The truth is that their tongues, just like the rest of them, is uniquely designed. A hummingbird’s  tongue is almost twice as long as their bill and it is forked or in the shape a V or W. The inside of the tongue is covered with tiny feather like fringes, which help them to maneuver the nectar along it. When it is far enough along the tongue, they simply have to pull it back in and enjoy the nectar.

Myth 4

  • Hummingbirds mate in flight

While hummingbirds are indeed acrobats in the air, it is a total myth that they can mate in mid-air.

The courtship display does involve some spectacular acrobatics in the air, but once the male has impressed a female, the actual mating is a lot less impressive. Like many other birds the male will land on the female and mating takes place

Myth 5

  • Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of other birds

Some hummingbirds certainly do have to travel a long way during migration and it is the length of these flights which started this myth.

The arguments are:

  • That a bird this small could not possibly complete a 20 hour flight across the Mexican Gulf on its own without stopping.
  • Travelling from the warmer climates of the South to Canada and Alaska is impossible for a bird of this size unless it has help.

The truth is that these amazing little birds complete their migration completely under their own steam. In fact they are extremely territorial and so they are unlikely to put themselves in to such close proximity as other birds.

Whether they have a long trip over water or flying on the way up to Alaska, a hummingbird will have properly prepared itself for the long journey ahead. They increase their body fat before their migration to give them the energy they will need and unlike a lot of other birds they will fly very close to the ground.

Myth 6

  • Leaving a feeder out will stop them migrating

This would be such a great thing if it were true as you would be able to leave your feeder out all year round to enjoy the hummingbirds in your yard.

The reality is far different. It is true that if you leave your feeder out into the autumn you may find hummingbirds feeding during their return flight. You cannot, however, postpone their migration. Hummingbirds are very much creatures of habit, and once their senses tell them that it is time to leave for home or begin their migration, nothing you will do will stop them.

Myth 7

  • Hummingbirds only feed on red tubular flowers

This is a very common myth, but that’s all it is.

It is true that they prefer tubular flowers as it allows them to get their beak right inside to get to the nectar, but they are not just attracted to red petals.

The hummingbird is attracted by the quality of the nectar no matter what the size or shape of the flower. They instinctively know which flowers will provide them with the best nectar and they are drawn towards them. If you have plenty of these flowers in your yard you are more likely to attract them.

Just some of the flowers which attract hummingbirds are:

  • These come in a variety of pinks and reds which add a splash of color, and their sweet nectar will draw the hummingbird to them.
  • These come in a wonderful variety of colors and their design makes it very easy for the hummingbirds to enjoy their nectar.
  • Whether red, blue, pink or purple the hummingbirds will be attracted to them.
  • Bee balms. These do grow in a lovely shade of red, but they also have lovely varieties of pinks and purples to attract the hummers.
  • These create a lovely splash of color in your yard and the tubular shape makes them a hummingbird favorite.

Myth 8

  • Adding red dye to a feeder will attract hummingbirds

While hummingbirds do seem to be attracted to the color red, you do not need to add any dye to your feeder. The reality is that dyes can actually be harmful to hummingbirds and so it’s best not to use them.

Most hummingbird feeders are red anyway and that and a combination of the lure of the nectar is what will attract them. If your feeder is not red or does not have any red parts, simply tie red ribbons around it.

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