Among all of the many wonders of nature, the tiny hummingbird ranks as one of the most fascinating. There are in fact more than 300 different types of hummingbird across the world. In the USA, only 8 species breed here, but there are others that visit.
What is it that makes this wonderful bird so special? The bright colours, diminutive size and unique traits in flight are among some of the things that fascinate us, so before we go on to talk about how such a tiny bird protects itself, here are a few facts you might not know:
- Hummingbirds cannot walk or hop!
- They can reach 30mph in forward flight, and 60mph in a dive
- Their eggs are the smallest of all birds at under half an inch long
- Their wings can beat up to 200 times per second
- And their heart beats at 1200 beats per minute
A few of those facts may give you clues as to how a hummingbird protects itself, so let’s get right on and talk about that.
Do Hummingbirds Have any Natural Predators?
Let’s start with the important question above. As a very small creature in a world full of predatory creatures, you would think the hummingbird would have a vast number of natural predators. You would be right! Here’s a list of creatures that – if they can – prey on the hummingbird:
- Snakes and lizards that strike at the hovering bird
- Large insects, including the praying mantis
- Certain birds that feed on other birds, known as ‘avivorous’ birds
- Owls and some smaller hawks
- Frogs that jump out of water to snare low-flying hummingbirds
- Domestic and feral cats
In addition, many other creatures – squirrels and chipmunks, for example – will take hummingbird eggs.
As we can see from the above, the hummingbird needs to protect itself in order to survive in what is a dangerous world for such a small bird.
Can a Wasp Kill a Hummingbird?
The above list of predators is by no means comprehensive, as it is so that a single wasp or bee sting can in fact kill a hummingbird. This is because the bird has very little in way of body mass to deal with the venom. However, for the insect to be successful, it would need to be very clever on the wing, as the hummingbird is a very tricky bird to catch.
This brings us back to the opening question: how does the hummingbird protect itself?
4 Key Methods of Protection
It would seem that, with so many predators to deal with, the hummingbird is going to find it difficult to protect itself. In fact, its very small stature works in this amazing bird’s favour!
Here are a few clever ways in which the hummingbird protects itself from predators:
- Nesting: the hummingbird builds a tiny nest – if you can imagine the size of half a walnut it’s about that size – and also cleverly camouflages the nest with twigs and leaves. Furthermore, the male stays away from the nest once the eggs are laid. He is bright and colourful and she not, so he makes sure he does not attract attention to the nest.
- Speed: The hummingbird, as we have mentioned, can fly at up to 30mph. This makes it very difficult for other birds and animals to catch. A third of the birds muscle weight is dedicated to flight, which helps with performance.
- Manoeuvring: the sheer agility of a hummingbird in flight is perhaps the greatest wonder. It can hover perfectly still, fly up and down, and can also fly sideways and backwards! What is even more impressive is that this little bird – the smallest are around 2 inches long, the largest varieties just 8 inches – can switch directions in an instant and with seemingly no effort. Given that the bird can also fly upside down and dive at 60mph, there are few predators that are lucky enough to match one of natures greatest acrobats.
- Noise: the hummingbird gets its name from the unique and quite wonderful noise its rapidly-beating wings make. While we humans love to hear it, it is also a deterrent to predators – especially birds – who simply can’t work it out! A strange noise will drive a predator away, it’s that simple.
This clever little bird, by way of agility, craftsmanship and the luck of nature, has its many predators beaten in more ways than one. That doesn’t mean that they don’t get taken – and such a small bird has no chance against a predator that finds its nest – but they put up a good fight!
Look out for hummingbirds next time you’re out and about, and remember just what an amazing little creature it is.