Hummingbirds play an important role in the pollination of many flowers. Many floral types have evolved to have specific characteristics to entrance hummingbirds to help floral reproduction.
Hummingbirds are the ideal bird for pollination, because they feed so frequently. Like bees, they carry pollen from one plant to another and play a crucial role in in the reproduction of plants. When hummingbirds feed, their forehead rubs against the stamens and pistils collecting the pollen. The bird then moves from flower to flower, pollinating each time.
There are more than 300 species of hummingbird found in the Americas. Although they eat small insects, like ants, flower nectar makes up an important part of their diet. A hummingbird can visit between 1000 and 3000 flowers a day to maintain an adequate calorie intake. That’s up to two times their body weight per day.
Which Flowers Do Hummingbirds Pollinate?
Many flowers have elaborate methods to encourage hummingbirds to frequently visit and successfully pollinate. Characteristics that generally attract hummingbirds include:
- Hummingbirds are generally attracted to pink, red, yellow and orange blooms. Birds view a much greater spectrum of color than humans, including ultraviolet shades.
- Hummingbirds prefer long, tubular blooms as this shape holds a bigger reservoir of nectar. Flowers with funnel-like shapes accumulate nectar in the base, perfect for hummingbirds as it prevents insects or other animals hurting the bloom.
- Hummingbirds don’t have a strong sense of smell. Flowers with strong smells attract insects more easily, so flowers with little aroma specifically target hummingbirds.
- To accommodate hummingbirds, flowers position themselves so the birds can feed with comfort, without their wings brush against the leaves or stems.
- Flowers that hummingbirds gravitate towards tend to have significantly more pollen than insect-pollinated flowers. This is because they generally visit the flowers fewer times than other pollinators.
What Food Do Hummingbirds Pollinate?
Like all birds, hummingbirds have basic habitat needs, including food, water, shelter, and space to forage and breed, in order to thrive. Flowers produce food in the form of nectar (a sugar and water substance) to attract hummingbirds that move pollen for the plant.
At least 150 North American plants have evolved especially to appeal for hummingbirds, and they tend to bloom for a longer period of time. Examples of native American plants that are pollinated primarily by hummingbirds include trumpet vines, wild bergamot and the cardinal flower.
Hummingbirds can also assist in pollinating native, introduced and cultivated species of plant.
Hummingbirds feed by day on nectar from flowers. This includes annuals, perennials, shrubs and vines. They also eat insects like gnats and fruit flies. When available they obtain tree sap from wells drilled in trees by birds and insects.
How Do Hummingbirds Pollinate Flowers?
Hummingbirds pollinate individual flowers, shrubs and trees in different ways. Because they feed five to eight times per hour and visit dozens of flowers daily, they have plenty of opportunities to pollinate in any of these methods:
- Disruption by Movement. Simply by knocking the pollen grain inside a single flower could successfully lead to pollination. A hummingbird can nudge a flower with a bill, or create a breeze with its wings, and this movement is enough to pollinate.
- Bill Transfer. Because pollen is a sticky substance, it easily adheres the bill of the hummingbird as it sips nectar. This allows the pollen to be transferred to other flowers that the hummingbird visits.
- Head Transfer. Deep blooms have long stamens and tall anthers contain pollen, when a hummingbird brushes against the anther, pollen may adhere to its head. This will be transferred to the next flower the bird visits.
They can get a tad feisty if they’re competing for a flower, see this video from the BBC (below).
What Time of Year Do Hummingbirds Pollinate?
Hummingbirds are diurnals (active during the daytime), so the blooms that rely on them for pollination are open and accessible during the day. They also may have longer blooming seasons, so they can fully take advantages of this species of bird.
Different species of hummingbird may visit different types of flower throughout the years. It depends on the bloom cycle of that individual flower and other food sources available to them. As the diet of the bird changes for every flower, it helps pollinate entirely a new type of bloom.
Many hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America or Mexico. They then migrate north to their breeding grounds in the south of the USA and western states as early as February. They migrate based on instinct, as well as sensing changes in the duration of daylight. Daylight changes will also affect the amount of flowers, nectar and insects.
Helping Hummingbirds with Pollination
Birders who attract hummingbirds can help with the pollination process.. It will also lead to lush, fuller blooms in the garden. The key to attracting hummingbirds to your yard is to plant lots of flowers and provide a safe environment with shade, shelter, water, food and water.
- Provide lots of space between plants to give hummingbirds the room to hover and navigate.
- Hummingbirds are attracted to moving water. It could be a water feature or simple a sprinkler hose.
- Hummingbirds do not have a strong sense of smell, so they solely rely on bright colors when looking for food.
- Hummingbirds love red. Red feeders, red plant labels and red garden furniture are all likely to attract hummingbirds. Avoid using red dye in the hummingbird feed as it may be dangerous to the bird.
- Use plain, clear sugar water in the feeder. Use a mixture that consists of one part white sugar mixed with four parts water (see our homemade hummingbird nectar recipe here).
How Does a Flowers Benefit from a Hummingbird?
Flowers and hummingbirds have a mutual relationship where both benefit from the process.
Different species of hummingbirds have unique shaped beaks. These beaks have evolved to enable them to drink from certain shapes of flower. In return, flowers have evolved to produce nectar that appeals to hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds are more reliable than insects when it comes to pollination. Bees and butterflies stay inactive when the weather is cold or wet, unlike hummingbirds who stay active no matter the weather. It’s common to find hummingbird-pollinated plants in the highlands because of this.
Pollinators like hummingbirds are vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems, they are essential for plant reproduction and for producing a genetic diversity.