It is not uncommon for people to wonder if hummingbirds have feet. As they whizz around our gardens, and we see them hovering in front of flowers or feeders, we may not be able to look closely at their anatomy. The answer is that they do – hummingbirds do indeed have feet. And if you follow your feathered visitors, you may see them perching on twigs or branches.
But asking simple questions is a wonderful way to learn more about the amazing creatures you share your space with.
Do Hummingbirds Have Feet? The Basics
So many people wonder if hummingbirds have feet because their legs and feet are very small and weak and are not easy to see – especially if you only glimpse the birds while they are in flight.
When hummingbirds are in flight, their feet are tucked up under the wings, allowing for greater aerodynamics and maneuverability. So you are unlikely to see them at all.
This bird species is part of an order of birds called ‘Apodiformes.’ The term comes from the Latin word for ‘footless.’ But hummingbirds do, in fact, have both feet and legs. It is just that hummingbird feet don’t stand out as visual features of their anatomy.
Hummingbirds are such excellent fliers that they don’t need to walk and hop like many other birds. They spend much of their time on the wing. The anatomy (they have no knees) does restrict movement when these birds are on the ground.
The Anatomy of Hummingbird’s Feet
Hummingbirds have four toes on their short, knee-less legs. Three point forward, and the other one points backward. The toe at the rear is like a human thumb and is commonly called a ‘hallux.’ Each of these toes is quite lengthy compared to the length of the legs.
These appendages might not seem, at first glance, to be all that much use to them. But in fact, hummingbirds use their feet in a range of ways.
Do Hummingbirds Walk?
Given the short length, kneelessness, and weakness of their legs, you will no doubt find it easy to understand why walking is not a hummingbird’s strong suit. While they can shuffle from side to side on branches, you will not find them hopping or undertaking a lengthy stroll.
Adding a hummingbird swing next to a food supply may allow you to witness a diminutive hummingbird shuffle sideways along a perch.
Do Hummingbirds Walk on the Ground?
Alert for predators and unable to walk or hop away quickly on their tiny legs and feet, you won’t find hummingbirds walking on the ground. Though they will frequently alight on twigs or branches, they are not known for walking or spending time on the ground.
How do Hummingbirds Use Their Feet?
Since hummingbird legs are not built for hopping or walking, you might wonder why they have feet at all. The truth is that hummingbirds do use these appendages in several different ways. Primarily, hummingbirds use their feet for:
- Scratching themselves.
- Building Nests
So while hummingbird legs and feet are small and built primarily for flight, these parts of their anatomy are of use to them, too.
How, When, and Where Hummingbirds Perch
Hummingbirds perch more often than you might think. They tend to find new perches frequently, some alighting on a branch or twig as often as every ten minutes or so.
When trying to attract hummingbirds to your garden and make them feel at home, it is important to provide plenty of places on your property where they can perch. They prefer to land on the tips of small branches, where they can gain a good vantage point on their surroundings.
These birds are remarkable in many ways, and one of these is that they have exceptional eyesight. Hummingbirds can even see colors undetectable by the human eye. So, a good lookout perch is important to them.
Ensure that there are plenty of shrubs and trees in your garden for hummingbirds to use as perching places. Male hummingbirds, in particular, spend time on lookout duty. These territorial hummers have to defend their territory from other males and look out for hummingbird predators to keep themselves and their ‘families’ safe.
Hummingbirds also perch in a safe and secure area at night. During this period, they enter a state called torpor – an inactive state in which their heart rate and breathing rate are reduced, allowing them to conserve energy and keeping them from starving, so perching for these periods is crucial to their survival.
In this state, they rely on their feet to grip onto the branch – they may even end up upside down. And their legs and feet are sufficient to allow them to stay clinging to a branch or twig without falling.
How Hummingbirds Use Their Feet to Scratch Themselves
Another way hummingbirds use their feet is to scratch itches and rid themselves of the mites that can sometimes plague them.
Like many other wild birds, hummingbirds can be susceptible to mites. They are part of nature. But if left unchecked, a mite infestation can lead to the loss of feathers. Hummingbirds, therefore, use their feet to keep this problem under control. They scratch at the mites to remove them.
Since hummingbirds’ legs are so short, it can be a challenge to reach the tops of their heads. Astonishingly, a hummingbird can drop its wing forward and take its leg back and over its wing to reach the top of its head, all while clinging to a perch with the other foot.
How Hummingbirds Fight Using Their Feet
If you have hummingbird feeders in your garden, sooner or later, you are likely to see how fierce male hummingbirds can be in defending their territory.
Resident hummingbirds (or earlier arrivals) will often fight off intruders that invade their area, defending food sources and any females they may have mated with.
Male hummers will often use their feet and beaks to ward off interlopers. One typical move is for a male hummingbird to grab the neck of an intruder with both feet to force him away.
Often, fights will occur in the air, with their feet used to force back or grab the other bird that it is fighting.
How Female Hummingbirds Use Their Feet When Building Nests
While the males tend to be the ones who defend their territory and fight, it is the female bird that takes on the work of nest building and raising young.
When a female hummer begins to build her nest, she will gather nesting materials like grasses, small twigs, and other plant materials she can find within the landscape. She builds a nest layer by layer, using spider webs to bind all the materials together.
To compact each layer of her nest, she will stamp her feet and make a dancing motion to shape the materials, ensuring that the nest is strong. By using her feet, female hummingbird nests can indeed be made very strong and almost impossible to destroy, perfect for baby birds to mature in safety.
So, while the legs and feet of hummingbirds are not great for walking, they are useful to them in a range of different ways.