Hummingbirds are known for many things, including their diminutive size, rapid wing beats, and their diet, which includes nectar from flowers and sugar water from feeders. But what you may or may not know is that much of the hummingbird’s diet is insects and spiders.
It’s difficult to track a wild hummingbird’s every move, given that they’re just a few inches long and can rapidly change direction while in flight. However, several studies have attempted to quantify just how vital insects and spiders are to a hummingbird’s diet.
A 1980 study published in The Condor saw Robert D. Montgomerie and Catherine A. Redsell track a broad-tailed hummingbird for two weeks in Arizona’s Santa Catalina Mountains, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.
The researchers found no blooms for hummingbirds to feed within a kilometer diameter of the bird’s nest and never observed her feeding on nectar. For at least that two weeks, the bird must have fed only on arthropods, they concluded.
A study published in The Auk by J.V. Remsen, F.G. Stiles, and P.E. Scott in 1986 examined the stomachs of over 1,600 individuals from 140 species and found arthropod remains in the stomachs of nearly 80 percent, according to All About Birds.
Why Do Spiders and Insects Appeal to Hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds eat spiders and other arthropods for energy. They require extreme amounts of food each day just to make it through the day.
According to the San Diego Zoo, hummingbirds must consume between 3.14 and 7.6 calories per day, which seems like almost nothing to us, but to a tiny hummingbird, it’s a lot. It’s the equivalent of a human eating over 150,000 calories in just one day.
This means they have to be eating constantly, and arthropods are a great food source to power these busy birds.
How Do Hummingbirds Catch Arthropods?
Since we most commonly see hummingbirds eating nectar from flowers or feeders, it’s maybe a little difficult for some people to envision a hummingbird even opening its bill, let alone catching the hundreds of necessary bugs to meet their metabolic needs.
Hummingbirds eat spiders and other insects from their webs, off plants, and eat flying insects from the air.
Female hummingbirds, including the ruby-throated hummingbird, are also sometimes known to use the silk from a spider’s web for their nests.
Hummingbirds are not the only birds that make use of this strong, sticky material. Golden-crowned kinglets use spider silk to suspend their nests from twigs “like a tiny hammock,” according to the National Audubon Society.
Do Spiders Ever Prey on Hummingbirds?
So, we know that hummingbirds visit spider webs to gather silk and prey on hummingbirds, but does that interaction ever go the other way around?
According to Terry W. Johnson for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, there are no spiders that prey on ruby-throated hummingbirds in his state, but hummingbirds may sometimes get entangled in a spider’s nest, which can be fatal. Larger orb-weaving spiders, however, may feed on hummingbirds if they’re fortunate enough to snare one in their web.
Are Spiders Attracted to Hummingbird Feeders?
If you own a hummingbird feeder, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen that it attracts bugs, and it’s not hard to see why. Free, sugary nectar is sure to draw a crowd.
Some hummingbird feeder models have moats to fill with water and keep insects away from the nectar, but that typically doesn’t do anything to keep the insects away, it just causes them to die in the water separating them from the feeder, which in turn may attract spiders.
Some spider species, including jumping spiders, also eat nectar. Ultimately, while we humans may sometimes be afraid of spiders, they aren’t likely to bother hummingbirds.
The best thing you can do to keep them away is to keep a clean feeder. You can do this by wiping up any nectar that gets onto the exterior of the feeder, and regularly changing out the liquid inside.
In addition to nectar from flowers and feeders, insects and spiders make up a large part of a hummingbird’s diet, and spider silk is also used as material for hummingbird nests.
With this in mind, building a yard full of native plants, insects, and spiders is one way you can positively impact your backyard birds, hummingbirds included.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will a Spider Bite a Hummingbird?
While large spiders could end up eating hummingbirds that become entangled in their webs, that predator-prey relationship usually goes the other way, with small spiders ending up as the prey of hummingbirds.
How Do I Keep Spiders Away From My Hummingbird Feeders?
Chances are, spiders visiting your hummingbird feeders are not there for the nectar, but rather to feed on any insects that are there.
The number one thing you can do to keep spiders away is to keep other insects off, and that starts with keeping your feeders clean. Regularly wipe down feeders and replace the sugar mixture with fresh liquid.
Don’t use insecticides or other chemicals to keep insects off your feeders.
What Preys on Hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are small and able to hide quite easily in bushes or trees, but they still might sometimes find themselves on the wrong end of the food chain.
Citing the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society states that smaller birds of prey like kestrels, kites, and merlins may present a danger to hummingbirds, as will sharp-shinned hawks, which are notorious for feeding on other birds.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a sharp-shinned hawk’s diet is up to 90 percent other birds.
A surprising hummingbird foe is the greater roadrunner, which you can see in this video staking out a hummingbird feeder:
According to Johnson with the Georgia DNR, large frogs, snakes, and lizards in Central and South America, large dragonflies, and largemouth bass can also be potential hummingbird predators.