Imagine the many obstacles a hummingbird faces every single day, whether it comes in the form of known common predators such as cats or toxic pesticides lurking in your backyard garden. Let’s take a look at what harmful dangers or fatalities a hummingbird may need to avoid in your backyard.
What common things can kill hummingbirds?
- Hummingbird feeders
- Physical objects
- Other birds
- Bees, wasps and other insects
- Praying Mantis
- Extreme weather
- Snakes and frogs
Hummingbirds are swift aerodynamic flyers, able to fly between 45 and 60 miles per hour (mph), and yet they are still vulnerable to predators and other dangers. Below are some of the perils that a hummingbird may face.
Cats, whether feral or pets are the first logical predator a hummingbird may face on a daily basis. Known for their agile movements and fast reflexes, a cat can pose a threat and launch itself from a tree branch to grab a hummingbird that is stationed at a feeder.
My mother would tell stories of our family cat following her while she picked fruit and tended her garden. On one occasion, our cat, as usual, followed her up the hillside at which time a hummingbird “buzzed” our cat which was a major mistake because he immediately reached out his paw and caught the hummingbird with one fierce swoop out of the air and straight into his mouth. Before my mother could shriek or attempt to stop our cat, the hummingbird was promptly eaten and went straight into his belly. The whole episode was shockingly instantaneous that she didn’t even have time to blink, let alone realized what she had just witnessed!
Even though this was a rare case, cats will often wait in bushes, in a tree, on a hillside or hang around feeders waiting for an opportunity to pounce and entrap a hummingbird for their next meal.
When feeding and protecting hummingbirds in your backyard sanctuary, here are some suggestions for consideration:
- Place a feeding station at least 8 feet above the ground where a cat will have difficulty accessing or reaching it.
- House the hummingbird feeder far away from accessible tree limbs, bushes, and fences. Clear away any high or low brush that might conceal a cat.
- The last option is to keep your cat indoors to eliminate temptation.
Neglecting to regularly clean a hummingbird feeder can lead to infections, diseases and ultimate death for the hummingbird. Fermented homemade hummingbird nectar that has spoiled in the hot sun creates the perfect prescription for bacterial growth to flourish. Between overcrowded hummingbird feeding stations and spoiled nectar is where a perfect storm of transferring diseases is produced.
Candidiasis, a fungal tongue infection and Avian poxvirus, a tumor growth on a hummingbird’s beak are the two most common diseases spread among hummingbird feeders.
Candidiasis causes extreme difficulty for hummingbirds to consume food causing them to become undernourished and eventually leads to death. The main cause for hummingbirds to contract this deadly recipe for disaster is when honey is used in making homemade nectar (which is not recommended) or when hummingbird nectar using regular table sugar has been left out in the sun and allowed to ferment.
Hummingbirds can also catch candidiasis by having unkempt water stations, poor hygiene or consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates. The sick hummingbird who has contracted this disease must be transported to a professional for assistance and treated with medications.
Avian poxvirus is transmitted from hummingbirds touching contaminated perches, feeders and watering stations. Mosquitoes are also known to transmit this disease.
Infected hummingbirds can easily transfer this virus to each other, while humans are not affected. The developed tumor sores not only reside on their beaks but can grow on their legs, feet, eyelids and even in their mouths.
Once affected, this virus can last from 10 to 14 days. Most healthy hummingbirds with a strong immune system will recuperate, however, imagine this awful sight not only being painful, but extremely uncomfortable and dysfunctional. Sustaining these sores creates a large obstacle for the hummingbird when attempting to consume food and can be a cause for starvation and slow death.
The most common form of the Avian poxvirus is the Cutaneous pox. It is contagious and can be fatal when transmitted from bird to bird. The good news is that it does not affect humans.
Maintaining the quality of your hummingbird food is another extremely important task that should never be overlooked.
Purchase hummingbird feeders with a wide mouth that can be easily dismantled and thoroughly cleaned. Maintain your feeders by:
- Frequently cleaning your feeder every 5-7 days.
- Soak the feeder in warm water or vinegar for several hours. (Do NOT use soap). Soap leaves an unwanted residue that displeases a hummingbird.
- Once soaking is complete, use a long bottle brush to remove any excess black mold from the feeder.
- Rinse the feeder thoroughly before refilling.
Below contains the formula for keeping your hummingbird feeder clean in the hot summer temperatures.
|Daily High Temperature (°F)||When to Change Nectar|
|70 to 80||Every 5 to 6 days|
|81 to 88||Every 3 to 4 days|
|88 to 92||2 days|
|93 and above||Change daily|
Notice something? The higher the temperature gets, the more often to clean and change the hummingbird nectar. When cleaning hummingbird feeders there are recommendations circling on the internet to use vinegar, bleach or soap.
Vinegar is a favorable and preferred method when disinfecting and cleaning the hummingbird feeder. Soak the feeder in 100% vinegar and then scrub the feeder clean. There are also recommendations for mixing 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. It would depend on how dirty the feeder is when deciding what route to choose. Vinegar does not harm hummingbirds.
Bleach is a harsher method when cleaning in my opinion. Even though there are instructions on the internet that say to use 1/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water or a 1/10 ratio of bleach to water, I personally would avoid this option.
Soap is the least favorable method for cleaning a hummingbird feeder because it leaves a distasteful residue changing the flavor of the nectar. There are various chemicals that make up the composition of dish soap. If the nectar is dissatisfactory for the hummingbirds this creates an absence of appearance at the feeder causing greater chances of fermentation and spread of diseases. Therefore, I chose the simplest and natural method which is vinegar.
Hummingbirds have quick reflexes and a great sense of spatial awareness which helps them to avoid collisions. However, just like anything, there is always room for error or miscalculations. The most common objects with which hummingbirds collide are clean windows, moving cars, fences, trees, and predators.
Hummingbirds are known to fly into clean glass windows or sliding glass doors. Their powerful momentum while flying is sometimes too difficult to instantaneously stop or change directions on short notice to avert a collision and you may hear a loud “thud” from outside. In these instances, the hummingbird can either be stunned, injured or killed.
In the best of situations, the hummingbird becomes stunned and can quickly recover and fly away with no more than a terrible headache. The second circumstance that can occur is when a hummingbird sustains injuries to the head, neck, wings or beak.
In this case, assess the situation and determine if a trained professional needs to be contacted. The last and unwanted outcome is when a hummingbird has succumbed to their injuries and can no longer be saved. Sometimes, the hummingbird may go into torpor, therefore it is always wise to consult a trained professional before deciding on the fate of the bird.
Some ways to prevent these tragic outcomes:
- Place specific stickers designed for your windows so the hummingbird does not see the clean glass as open space.
- Use a reflective cover over larger plates of glass windows to produce a display of light that will catch the hummingbird’s attention.
Hummingbirds are very brave when defending their territory or nesting grounds and will attack blue jays, hawks and other large birds. However, in the worst-case scenario these same birds will sometimes swoop down and devour the hummingbird. Not much of a meal, but sometimes it happens.
These are one of the many risks and dangers a hummingbird can face daily in their life.
Bees and Wasps
Most of the time bees and wasps create more of a nuisance than an actual threat when they hang around hummingbird feeders. The reason why they linger near hummingbird feeders is that they are in search of water during the hot summer months.
I am sure you have witnessed wasps or bees competing for space around a crowded hummingbird feeder. Most of the time you will see a frustrated hummingbird avoiding the insects for personal space. At first, the spectacle is humorous and the hummingbird will tolerate the disturbance for some time because food is their number one priority. Before long you will see the annoyed hummingbird become fed up with the situation and take residence elsewhere.
Bees and wasps will not intentionally go out of their way to attack a hummingbird. If they are caught up in a situation and out-maneuver a hummingbird their sting can be deadly! A hummingbird is so small that its body can not absorb the venom.
To reduce this conflict during the summertime:
- Add bee watering stations
- Reduce your hummingbird sugar to water ratio
- Use nectar guard tips
- Position feeders in the shade or hang disposable yellow jacket traps.
Spider webs are just as hazardous or even more dangerous to hummingbirds as the spiders themselves. A spider’s web is made from silk produced from the spider’s abdomen and their delicate and intricate appearance is deceiving. A spider’s silk has a bendable and flexible strength with a tensile strength comparable to steel.
There are videos and documentaries of hummingbirds getting caught in a territorial match and accidentally flying through a spider web, then becoming stuck. Spider webs are difficult to detect unless the sunlight hits them at a certain angle or there are glistening dewdrops on the web.
One of two things can occur. First, the hummingbird can become entrapped for long periods of time and eventually become so exhausted that they will succumb to starvation and die. Or two, an ambitious spider can actually start to wrap up and encase the hummingbird for a long-lasting meal.
On the bright side, there is actually one more thing that can happen where a compassionate human spot a distressed hummingbird and will free it from the tentacles of a strong spider web.
For every thorn, there is a rose. On the flip side, spider silk is just as important to help mother hummingbirds construct and glue their nests together. They do this to bind the bottom or side of the nest to a tree branch or other object. This technique allows the nest to expand as their young grow. The strength of the silk has an adhesive texture that is perfect for building a well-crafted nest. Female hummingbirds must be careful when gathering the silk so that they do not get entangled and trapped in the web.
One unusual and unlikely predator to make the top 10 list is none other than the infamous praying mantis. It may surprise you that a praying mantis can capture, kill and eat a hummingbird.
Praying mantis is 3 ½ to 4 inches long and can kill prey three times its size.
Typically, the insect will camouflage to blend into its surroundings of (browns and greens) and position itself on a plant or on a hummingbird feeder. Some species are known to camouflage so well and can disguise itself as a flower to fool and capture their prey.
Like all killers, a praying mantis has patience on their side and will wait for hours before attacking and capturing the right victim. Due to its killing technique, the movement is lightning-fast resembling an assassin and resulting in a victory of success.
A praying mantis will hold the hummingbird in a death grip with its jagged and notched forelegs and sharp razor-like mandibles. It may take all day because of the hummingbird’s size to consume. It devours the bird by eating its brains out!
The mantis’ strength lies in its ability to surprise the hummingbirds, as well as its ability to hang on and never let go, much like the grip and precision of a hungry cat.
“They just hold [their prey], and they eat them while they are still alive, slowly and slowly until there is nothing left”Dietrich Mebs, retired forensic ecologist at the University of Frankfurt
While praying mantises are very beneficial to our ecosystem and contribute to pest control (reducing and consuming harmful insects in our gardens), it is ideal to discourage these insects from where your hummingbirds feed.
Temperatures ranging below 32*F and above 100*F are extremely harsh living conditions for hummingbirds. Their bodies are able to cope with colder temperatures in the winter for a period of time but eventually, hummingbirds will have to migrate further south towards warmer regions if necessary when it becomes too cold.
Every night hummingbirds go into “torpor” where they save their energy and resources through the night to be able to “jump-start” their heart and wake up to live another glorious day. They will reflect or mirror their body temperature to the environment around them and slow their heartbeat down to 50 beats per minute in order to achieve this phenomenon.
Hummingbirds must fill their bellies nightly and find a safe branch to perch before going into torpor. In warmer areas, reversing the state of torpor in the early morning is a breeze. During the colder seasons reversing the state of torpor is more taxing on their body and sometimes luck is not on their side, eventually leading to death.
One of the many reasons why hummingbirds migrate is to get away from the frostbite and frigid temperatures during the winter that no small bird can endure. Heavy frost is potentially fatal.
Extreme cold weather can even kill insects so let alone imagine what it can do to a tiny hummingbird. Hummingbirds can live without feeding on nectar constantly, but they cannot live without the necessary bugs for protein in their diet.
On the other side of the coin, severe heat and drought can cause dehydration and is deadly for hummingbirds. Hot summer months without shade, water or food can spell disaster. After all, a hummingbird only has a few drops of blood in their entire body.
To help our hummingbird friends during the summer months here are some helpful tips:
- Change your homemade nectar daily in extremely hot weather (90 *F or above) and every other day for temperatures in the 80 *F.
- Place your hummingbird feeders in the shade to reduce bacterial growth from fermented spoiled nectar.
- Provide bushes and trees in your backyard for hummingbirds to rest and provide shade from the heat.
- Plant nectar-producing flowering plants. Hummingbirds are very fond of and appreciate tubular-shaped flowering plants.
- Add a water feature or mister for the hummingbirds to bathe.
Our hummingbird companions will be extremely grateful for the assistance of decreasing the overall temperatures and providing comfort in their environment.
Frogs and Snakes
Other types of predators for hummingbirds include frogs and snakes. When a hummingbird flies over any body of water a frog can mistake it for an insect. Sometimes a low flying hummingbird will get snatched by a large frog or toad just lurking under the water, if the hummingbird is are not careful.
Snakes that prefer to reside in trees will raid a hummingbird’s nest and eat the eggs or their young. When the mother is off of her nest out looking for food is the perfect time for the snake to strike and the hummingbird eggs are the most vulnerable.
On other occasions, snakes have also been spotted visiting a hummingbird feeder. All possible types of predators result in over half of the hummingbird population dying before they reach their 12th month. Although this happens rarely, snakes in trees or on feeders have been documented providing no way to interfere with Mother Nature.
Hummingbird populations have been declining for decades. The Rufous hummingbird lost 62 percent of its population between 1966-2014. Habitat loss, climate change and fragmentation of breeding grounds were blamed as contributing factors.
However, new research from Canada indicates that neonicotinoid (neonics) insecticides are contributing to the hummingbird’s decline. Neonics are widely used in commercial agriculture. They are also used in backyard gardens and landscapes. Unfortunately, these insecticides last in water and soil for months to even years. The insecticide travels from the roots to leaves, all the way to the pollen and nectar.
The Canadian study examined levels of neonics in hummingbirds and found that the hummingbirds consume pesticides in their food source. Hummingbirds remember where their nectar sourced flowering plants reside and return to the same locations for food. Researchers are concerned neonicotinoids will disrupt the hummingbird’s memory making it difficult for them to navigate and find food.
Refrain from using pesticides in your own backyard and consider using organic or non-toxic remedies such as Neem oil for curing or protecting your plants from insect infiltrations or diseases. Make sure to use these products at night so it has time to dry while the hummingbirds are sleeping, in order to protect them.
During a hummingbird’s daily routines, they encounter numerous dangers that can lead to their demise at any time. They constantly dodge potential mishaps more frequently than you may realize.
Now knowing the multitude of dangers for hummingbirds right in your own backyard will give you a leg-up in helping to keep them safe. Continue to protect these delicate hummingbirds and enjoy their beauty and grace.
Happy Hummingbird Watching!