Of course hummingbirds have feet! Have you never seen one perching on a twig or small branch? Actually, more than likely, you haven’t. Because they’re so small, it can be hard to spot them while they’re perched high up in a tree. They do this quite a lot, especially male hummers. This allows them to survey their territory and be on the lookout for intruders.
Even though hummingbirds are part of the bird order called “Apodiformes”, they do in fact have both legs and feet. Apodiformes is Latin and means footless. However, their legs and feet are very small and weak. And, they have no knees!
This means that walking is very difficult for a hummingbird. Can you imagine trying to walk without knees? They also can’t hop, precisely because they have no knees. However, hummingbirds are the most advanced flyers of all bird species, so they have no need to walk and hop like other birds.
Actually, you can be forgiven for wondering whether hummingbirds actually have feet because when they’re flying, their feet are tucked away under their wings. This allows for better aerodynamics and explains why hummers are such amazing aerial acrobats.
Let’s look at the anatomy of a hummingbird’s feet and legs.
- 1 Anatomy Of A Hummingbird’s Feet And Legs
- 2 What Do Hummingbirds Use The Legs And Feet For?
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions:
- 4 Final Thoughts
Anatomy Of A Hummingbird’s Feet And Legs
A hummingbird’s foot has four toes. Three in the front and one at the back. This toe in the back is commonly called a “hallux” and it’s similar to a human thumb in that it allows a hummer to grip the branch that it’s sitting on.
The configuration of a hummingbird’s foot makes it ideal for perching, even on very small branches or wires. You might be surprised to learn that hummingbirds will sometimes hang upside down on branches at night when they’re sleeping. So, you can imagine that the grip of a hummingbird’s foot is quite adequate.
This is because their toes and claws are quite long compared to the size of their feet or the length of their legs.
To add to this, a hummingbird’s legs are very short compared to their bodies and to other birds. Plus, their leg to foot length ratio is not symmetrical. And, of course, they have no knees. This makes walking and hopping virtually impossible.
However, you will be pleased to know that there are other things that a hummer uses its feet for.
Let’s explore these in more detail.
What Do Hummingbirds Use The Legs And Feet For?
There are four basic tasks that a hummingbird uses its legs and feet for. These are perching, scratching, fighting and nest building. So you see, these appendages aren’t totally useless.
How A Hummingbird Perches
Even though it’s not common to see, a hummingbird perches fairly often. Even as much as every 10 minutes or so. Generally, they prefer to perch on the tips of a small branch. This gives them a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. Remember, hummers have exceptional eye sight and can even see colors that are not visible to the human eye.
Male hummers, especially, use this perch time to keep an eye on their territory. They are on the lookout both for other males invading their territory and for predators.
Hummingbirds will also perch in a safe area during the night so that they can sleep. During this time, they enter a sedentary state called torpor. This reduces their heart rate and respiration so that they conserve energy and don’t starve while they’re sleeping. Because of this, you’ll often find that they end up hanging upside down in a tree. This means that the grip of their feet is the only thing that stops them from falling out of the tree.
Although a hummingbird can’t hop around in its feet, it can shuffle from side to side on a branch or perch. It’s the cutest sight if you get a chance to witness it.
In fact, if you want to encourage local hummers to perch and shuffle, why not create a little hummingbird swing with a receptacle of nectar on either side. Then, take out your binoculars and watch the tiny hummingbird shuffle from one receptacle to the other.
How And Why A Hummingbird Uses Its Feet To Scratch
Let’s face it, we all need to scratch sometimes and a hummingbird is no different. You might or might not be aware that all wild birds are susceptible to mites. It’s just part of nature. However, if these mites are left unchecked, a hummer could easily lose all of its feathers, especially on its head.
Therefore, hummingbirds use their feet to scratch at the mites to remove them. However, because a hummingbird’s legs are so short with no knee joints, it can be difficult for them to reach the top of their heads.
To counteract this problem, the hummingbird will drop its wing forward and take its leg back and over its wing to reach the top of its head. This all happens in the blink of an eye, so it’s really hard to witness. Plus, a hummer will do this while perching and gripping onto a branch with the other foot.
How A Hummingbird Uses Its Feet For Fighting
If your hummingbird feeders out during nesting season, you’ve undoubtedly seen resident hummingbirds fighting off intruders into “their” territory. You see, male hummingbirds are very territorial and don’t appreciate other males invading the territory they’ve marked as their own.
Mostly, these territorial hummers are protecting their food source to ensure that no other bird steals it from them or the females that they’ve mated with.
When defending their territory, hummers will use both their feet and beak to ward off intruders. One common manoeuvre is for a defending hummer to use both its feet to grab the neck of an intruder and force him away from the feeder.
If fighting in mid-air, hummers will use their feet as a protection barrier or to grab the other bird. So, although a hummingbird’s feet are not good for walking or hopping, they are excellent for fighting.
How Female Hummingbirds Use Their Feet To Build Their Nests
By now you’ll be aware that it’s only the female hummers who do all the nest building and raising the young. In fact, hummingbird nests are tiny but absolutely perfect in symmetry and strength.
To start her nest building, a female hummingbird will gather together various materials including grasses, small twigs, cotton fiber and any other plant materials she can find.
Once she’s gathered all her materials, she’ll start building the nest layer by layer. She also uses spider webs to bind the materials together. After she’s constructed each layer, she uses her feet in a stamping motion to shape the nest and make it strong.
If you ever have the chance to watch a female hummingbird building her nest, it will look like she’s dancing. However, all the stamping that she does with her feet, compacts the nesting materials and makes a very strong nest that’s almost indestructible.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What do hummingbird feet look like?
A hummingbird’s foot is very tiny and delicate. Their feet just look like tiny dark spots when hummers are flying around.
Do hummingbirds walk?
Yes, they can walk but not very well as their legs and feet are not very strong.
Do hummingbirds ever stop flying?
Most hummers spend their daylight hours in the air and almost never stop moving. However, at night, they do perch and go to sleep.
As you can see, hummingbirds definitely do have feet, however, they don’t use them in the same manner as other birds do. Because their legs are short and have no knee joints, hummers aren’t able to walk very well or even hop.
However, a hummingbird’s feet have a number of other purposes. Hummingbirds use their feet for perching and scratching away mites and preening themselves. Hummers also use their feet for fighting off invaders who they think will steal their food supply. They’ll even use their feet as a barrier while fighting in mid-air.
In addition to this, female hummingbirds will use their feet while they’re building their nests. As their nests take shape, they’ll continually stamp up and down with their feet to compact the nest into a nice solid shape to accommodate their eggs and eventually the baby birds.
Have you ever witnessed a hummingbird using its feet during a fight with an invader? Or, have you ever seen a female hummer build her nest? Please share your stories with us in the comments below. We love reading them.