Hummingbird babies food

The Gift of Caring for Baby Hummingbirds

One writer learns that this task is anything but a burden. 

By Sy Montgomery

March-April 2013


By Sy Montgomery

March-April 2013

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Anna's Hummingbird feeds chicks in nest (Calypte anna).  Irvine, California Photo: Photo by Hal Beral

When they were found, the infants were nearly dead. Hatching from eggs the size of Navy beans, they were bumblebee size, pink, naked, and blind. That’s when my friend Brenda Sherburn, who specializes in raising orphaned baby hummingbirds, received a call. I flew from New Hampshire to California to help.

Even for a mother hummingbird, raising nestlings is a daunting job. She leaves the nest up to 200 times a day to gather food. For a human, raising baby hummingbirds is a positively Herculean task—as I soon found out.

Every 20 minutes, from dawn to dark, the babies need food. That means catching hundreds of fruit flies a day, freezing them, crushing them with mortar and pestle, and mixing the mush with special nectar supplemented with vitamins, enzymes, and oils in precise combination. The mixture spoils easily. If it does, it can kill the baby birds.

In fact, it seems everything can kill them. In the wild, yellow jackets can sting them to death. Hawks, jays, roadrunners, opossums, even dragonflies eat them. They can die of cold. They can die of heat. They will certainly die if left alone. But an inept surrogate mother can kill them easily, too, as Brenda explained.

Carefully she showed me how to fill a syringe and thread a thin catheter down the babies’ throats. I was petrified. Nothing seems as delicate as a baby hummingbird: You can damage their feathers by touching them; their feet are thin as thread. I feared I would hurt their mouths. I feared they’d choke on their food. But even worse can happen, Brenda told me: “If you overfeed them,” she said, “they can actually pop.”

If you miss a feeding, they can starve. Brenda set a timer so there was no risk we’d forget. For weeks, inch-and-a-half-long baby birds ruled our days.

Brenda is a professional artist, but she couldn’t work on her sculptures or pastels. Nor could I write. In the 20-minute snippets between feedings, we could never fit in a workout at the gym or a long phone call to a friend. Before breakfast, one of us ground coffee beans, the other did fruit flies. We gulped lunch. We interrupted each dinner at least twice to feed the little birds.

“Everything stops for the hummingbirds,” Brenda told me. That’s why it’s so hard to find volunteers to care for them. Could I commit to such a schedule? I wondered.

The next morning, I watched one of the babies stretch a membranous wing to preen. Tissue paper is armor in comparison. And then, before my astonished eyes, the tiny creature stood up in its nest and whirred its wings with concentrated ferocity. How can this bird summon a resting heartbeat of 500 times a minute, revving to 1,500 times a minute when, one day, God willing, this gossamer being conquers the sky?

Then, I understood: Not only could I do this, but it was an honor I’d cherish.

When the Spanish first encountered hummingbirds (they live only in the New World) they called them Resurrection Birds—for surely something this shining and perfect died each night and was reborn the next morning.

This names the gift that working with these nestlings gave to me. They allowed me a hand in resurrection. If they lived, they would go on to even greater miracles. These nestlings proved to be Allen’s hummingbirds. The adult males of this tiny species perform a nuptial flight that, in terms of body lengths covered per second, bests the speed of the Space Shuttle as it screams toward earth through the atmosphere.   

But all birds, of course, are miracles, and humans have known this for millennia. We have looked to birds as oracles. Our hearts soar on their wings and their songs. Even the tiniest bird can teach us that life is larger than humankind alone.

So each time our timer buzzed, signaling another feeding, I came to understand that life wasn’t stopping for the hummingbirds; each feeding instead offered a chance to begin life anew. This is the lesson birds teach us. Every day, we can witness miracles. Each day, we can participate in resurrection, in mending the broken world.

What Do Baby Hummingbirds Eat?

by Melanie

No other species encapsulates the phrase “tiny but mighty” quite as well as hummingbirds. While marveling at the small size of these birds, it often leads us to think about just how small their nest must be. And those tiny eggs! And itty bitty babies! Since we don’t see them at our hummingbird feeders, what do baby hummingbirds eat?

Newborn Hummingbirds

After a female hummingbird has been impregnated by the male, she is on her own to construct the nest and raise the young. It will take a female about a week to construct her tiny cup shaped nest. Nests are made from moss, lichen, plant fibers, bits of bark and leaves, and spiderweb silk. Usually two eggs are laid, but sometimes only one. If two chicks are hatched, chances of survival increase because they can help to keep each other warm while mother is off the nest catching food. 

Hummingbird babies are very tiny. They weigh less than one gram and are only about 2 centimeters long. When first born their eyes remain closed and they have no feathers. It will be about two weeks before their eyes begin to open and feathers start to grow.  

The length of time until babies leave the nest varies slightly between species. Overall, most hummingbird babies leave the nest about three weeks after hatching. 

How do baby hummingbirds eat

Hummingbirds have a special sac in their throat called a crop. The crop is basically a pocket in the esophagus where food can be stored. Adults can use this to gather extra food to save for later. Food in the crop has to be released down to the stomach to actually be eaten and digested. A handy feature on days when food may be hard to find. Female hummingbirds can also use their crop to gather food to feed their babies. 

For many days after hatching, the young hummingbirds eyes remain closed. Listening for chirps, feeling vibrations in the nest made by her landing or in the air from her wings, are all ways the babies can sense when their mother is near. When they sense her, they will poke their heads up out of the nest and open their mouths to receive food. 

When the babies open their mouth to beg for food, mom will insert her beak into their mouth and expel the contents of her crop into their throat. The food in the crop has not made it to her stomach and therefore remains undigested at the time of feeding.  

What do baby hummingbirds eat

Baby hummingbirds eat small insects and nectar, fed to them by their mother. Feedings will happen on average 2-3 times per hour.  The percentage of insects versus nectar fed to the young can vary by species and by habitat. However it is important to feed as many insects as possible. During the babies growth and development they need a lot of nutrients, proteins and fats that nectar alone cannot provide. 

Small spiders are one of hummingbirds favorite insects to catch. Hummingbirds will also eat mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, ants, aphids and mites. They can use their long bill and tongue to pluck insects off branches and leaves. They also are very skilled at catching insects mid-air, a practice called “hawking”.  

As the young get older and have left the nest, the mother may continue to help feed them for another 1-2 weeks. While also helping to teach them how to find their own food of course. Check out our article on how to feed insects to hummingbirds to help provide food for the hummers in your yard.

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What to do with abandoned baby hummingbirds

Every nature lovers fear, finding an abandoned baby bird. It’s a very difficult and delicate thing to care for a baby hummingbird. Sadly even the most well intentioned people can end up trying and failing to save a bird that didn’t need saving. To avoid causing harm, let’s first discuss how to tell if a nest has truly been abandoned. Then we will list advice from the San Diego Humane Society’s Project Wildlife on how to care for baby hummingbirds while finding professional help.

How to tell if a hummingbird nest has been abandoned

Most concern comes from seeing babies in a nest with no parent in sight. When babies are newly hatched and have no feathers, the mother needs to sit on the nest consistently to keep the chicks warm. However once the chicks have begun to grow their own feathers (about 10-12 days post hatch), this changes drastically.

The babies are now able to keep themselves warm, and she doesn’t need to sit on the nest. In fact, she will often stay away from the nest the majority of the time (day and night) to avoid catching the attention of potential predators. Mom visits the nest for a few seconds to feed the young and is then off again. These feeding visits can last for mere seconds. Typically this occurs a few times an hour but in some circumstances the time between visits may be as long as an hour or more. 

You can see how a concerned nest watcher could easily miss seeing these quick feedings and believe that the mother is no longer coming back. You need to watch a nest for two hours consistently before making a determination if the adult is coming back. 

Also, don’t be fooled by silent babies. If you are under the impression that quiet babies that aren’t chirping means they are ill, think again. Staying silent is another defense hummingbirds have against predators, they don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention. They will often peep and chirp when mom comes by to feed them, but quickly go silent again until her return. In fact, hummingbird babies that are constantly making sounds for ten or more minutes without a parent in sight might indicate they are in distress.  

If you find a hatchling hummingbird

A hatchling is newly born (0-9 days old), and will have gray/black skin with no sign of feathers, or only pin-feathers which are not fluffy and look like little tubes. 

  • Don’t try and feed these babies, call for help asap
  • Try and keep the baby in the nest
  • If a nest isn’t available line a small container with tissue and keep the baby warm by keeping them near a heat producing lamp. 
  • Watch out for overheating, if the baby is open-mouth breathing or stretching it’s neck out it is too warm, reduce heat. 

If you find a nestling hummingbird

Nestlings are 10-15 days old. They will be able to open their eyes a little and appear to have some feathers. As we discussed above, this begins the period of time where mom will be away from the nest most of the time. She will return for a few seconds to feed the babies at least once an hour, often more. Watch the nest for two hours straight before determining she is not returning.  

  • If fallen from the nest, pick them up carefully and return them to the nest. If the nest appears overrun with insects such as ants that might be harming the babies, construct an artificial nest and place it nearby. 
  • After putting baby birds back in the nest, watch to make sure the mother is returning to feed them
  • If it has been determined the nest is abandoned, sugar water (nectar) can be fed until a rehabber can take the birds. Use a dropper to drop three drops into the baby’s mouth every 30 minutes. Any nectar spilled on the birds must be wiped up immediately or their feathers will become too sticky and matted. Do no feed nectar for longer than 72 hours. 

If you find a pre-fledgling hummingbird

Pre-fledglings  (16+ days old) have their full feathers and are just about ready to leave the nest. They are beginning to explore and are often found on the ground having fallen out of the nest. If you can see the nest, place them back inside and watch for mom’s return.

  • If abandoned, you can feed 5 drops of nectar every 30 minutes until a rehabber can take them.
  • Any nectar dripped on the birds will need to be wiped off
  • Do not feed nectar for more than 72 hours

In all cases you are doing emergency care for the bird while trying to find a local rehabber who can either give you professional advice or take the bird for care. It is important to let trained professionals rear these young birds. Here are some links that may help you find rehabbers near you. These lists are not often kept up to date however and an internet search of “wildlife rehab + your state” or checking your state government’s department of wildlife page might yield better results. 

  • Wildlife Rehabilitator US Directory
  • Wildlife Rescue Groups
  • Locating Wildlife Rehabilitators by State


Baby hummingbirds aren’t able to hunt for their own food until they are about a 3-4 weeks old. In the meantime, mom keeps them fed with a combination of small insects and nectar, just like she eats. She will feed them by regurgitating food stored in her crop. Once the babies have grown their own feathers, they spend most of their time alone, quietly snoozing in their nest while mom only visits to drop off some food. Make sure you are quite certain a nest is abandoned before intervening on the birds behalf. If needed, feed regular hummingbird nectar while contacting a wildlife rehabilitator. 

About Melanie

Melanie has been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and photographing birds of all types.


Hummingbird - description, range, food, reproduction, photo and video


There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds. The Bee Hummingbird or Dwarf Bee (Mellisuga helenae) is one of the smallest members of the family.


The length of the body from the beak to the tail is only a few centimeters, and the weight is two grams. This little bird is lighter than one ostrich feather! The size of a newly hatched hummingbird is approximately 0. 5 cm. This baby has a very colorful coloring of feathers.

Hummingbird chicks

Males have green feathers, bright red neck, dark gray belly, and bluish-blue back stand out against this background. Females, on the other hand, are distinguished by a rich white tail, the back, just like in males, is green, and the lower part of the body is slightly lighter, has a gray-white color.

Hummingbird habitat

Hummingbird habitat. Green - summer area, blue - wintering, yellow - migration

For the most part, these excellent creatures live in South and North America. They can be found in Cuba, Alaska, Arizona and the coast of Nova Scotia. They live in rural fields and gardens, as well as mountain forests.

What is a hummingbird?

Feeding hummingbirds

It is an erroneous opinion that hummingbirds eat exclusively flower nectar. Birds need a lot of protein, so their diet mainly consists of midges, flies, mosquitoes and spiders. On a day, hummingbirds consume twice the weight of the bird itself, thanks to which winged creatures can maintain an accelerated metabolism and temperature stability of their tiny bodies.

Approximately every five to ten minutes the hummingbird eats something. If you create a top of the most insatiable birds, then it would be the hummingbird that would take gold. When collecting nectar, a tiny creature flies from one flower to another, thereby pollinating them. This is the "work" of the hummingbird.

Why does a hummingbird fly all the time?

Hummingbird in flight

These birds have very weak legs, because of which they cannot walk, but constantly fly. Because of this, people get the impression that such birds never get tired. At the same time, they fly in any direction and can hover in the air in one place, like a helicopter. At this point, their wings are making about 55 beats per second.

Wings move so fast that their outlines blur and become almost invisible. In flight. Giant hummingbirds develop a speed of about 115 kilometers per hour, which is a record among birds.

Heart of a hummingbird

Due to its active lifestyle, the bird has an insanely well-developed heart, the volume of which is 3 times the volume of the stomach. This "motor" takes up most of the already tiny body. This baby's heart beats 4.5 billion times in its lifetime. If compared with the human heart, then in 70 years it makes 2 times fewer strokes than the heart of a hummingbird.

Hummingbird beak

A huge number of species of this family differ from each other in the size and shape of their beaks. It is this factor that influences the choice of plants for pollination. Birds with a small beak prefer to eat from flatter flowers, while those with a long, elongated beak feed on nectar from narrow, funnel-shaped inflorescences.

Sword-billed hummingbird

The sword-billed hummingbird has the longest beak in the family of these birds. Its length can be 10 centimeters, which is twice the size of the bird itself. This representative of the hummingbird has emerald-colored feathers, a dark gray belly, and the area behind the eyes has a characteristic white pigmentation.

The whole family of hummingbirds is distinguished by its incredibly beautiful color of feathers, reminiscent of precious stones, especially when the feathers begin to play with a riot of colors under the bright sun. It is for this reason that the bird is often given poetic names associated with stones: amethyst, topaz, emerald and many others.

Social structure and reproduction


These wonderful birds do not live in pairs. The female independently raises chicks and builds a nest. The material for the construction of the house is pieces of grass, cobwebs, fluff of other birds, small pieces of bark. The parameters of "housing" are determined by the size of the bird and can be as large as half a walnut shell or a tea cup in diameter. Basically, the female lays two eggs at a time, less often one. Hatches them for about 18 days. If necessary, a brave mother will boldly defend her cubs, even if the attacker is many times larger than her. The lifespan of a hummingbird reaches about 9years.

The largest species of hummingbird

Giant hummingbird

The largest member of the family is the "Giant hummingbird" (Patagona gigas). This species can be identified by its brown color with a green tint, as well as a red-brown abdomen. The body length of a hummingbird of this species can reach 22 centimeters, and its weight is about 18-20 grams. In addition to size, these individuals differ from their relatives in a rather long beak and forked tail, like a swallow.

Hummingbirds are incredibly unique creatures that differ from other winged creatures in their way of life and structure, and most importantly, in size. In this regard, for many years it has been of incredible interest to nature lovers.

Hummingbird - interesting video

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Little life: how hummingbirds became real superheroes | Publications


When you are a tiny creature, the world around you is deadly. But the brave baby hummingbirds , trying to survive among the giants, have become real superheroes.


Hummingbirds are the smallest birds on Earth: for example, the Cuban bee hummingbird weighs only two grams. Tiny creatures have a hard time: even if the larger neighbors on the planet do not want to eat them, they can, simply without noticing, accidentally crush a hummingbird. To snatch at least something from the cruel world, hummingbirds are forced to act very quickly. These birds are planetary record holders in relative flight speed. If passenger planes were flying at the speed of a hummingbird, we would get to our destination 3-4 times faster than we do now.

However, the birds perform well in absolute terms: the long-tailed hermit hummingbird Phaethornis superciliosus weighing 5–7 grams can fly up to 40 meters at a speed of 40 km/h. In a dive flight, hummingbirds even accelerate to 80 km / h, however, not for long. At the same time, the wings of a bird make up to 80 strokes per second.

Family Trochilidae

Class - Birds
Order - Swifts
Family - Hummingbirds

In total, about 350 species of hummingbirds are known, and all of them live on the American continent. For such tiny creatures, these birds live extremely long lives - up to ten years. At the same time, birds never descend to the ground: their small paws are not adapted for walking. Hummingbirds hibernate at night to conserve energy.

Super Energy

In order to keep up with the pace that even large animals would envy, the hummingbird had to speed up its metabolism to the fullest. In flight, these birds spend 10 times more energy per unit mass than the best athletes when running a hundred meters. Birds develop such power thanks to a number of adaptations. One of them is a giant heart, which occupies almost half of the body cavity. In flight, hummingbirds spend more oxygen (of course, in a relative amount) than any other vertebrates, and in order to deliver it to the tissues, the bird's heart beats at a frequency of up to 1200 beats per minute. At rest, it slows down to "only" 250 beats. Bulky lungs of hummingbirds “absorb” oxygen from the incoming air twice as efficiently as other birds, blood with a high content of red blood cells binds gas extremely efficiently, and a dense capillary network in the muscles allows them to transfer “fuel” to them as quickly as possible.

The largest representative of the giant hummingbird family weighs "whole" 20 grams

Finally, a powerful energy station operates inside each hummingbird cell. Cells create energy from the compounds that come with food in special "factories" - mitochondria. The resulting "kilowatts" are stored in the form of adenosine triphosphoric acid (ATP) - a universal cellular battery. In hummingbirds, the “working” surface of mitochondria is much larger than in other birds, and the “factories” themselves work in a constant rush mode.

But, despite all these tricks, hummingbirds cannot withstand extreme loads for a long time. So 80% of the time the birds are forced to sit on a branch, recovering from extreme battles with the "big" world.


Hummingbirds need to eat often and properly in order to live in their crazy rhythm. And if people can sometimes upset the balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, for hummingbirds, maintaining it is a matter of life and death. Unlike humans, for fast hummingbirds, the correct diet is carbohydrate. Their staple food, flower nectar, is almost pure sugar syrup. Tiny birds have no time and no need to think about the future. Therefore, most of the consumed nectar is consumed immediately, and only a small part is stored in the form of fat.

Moreover, the nectar enters immediately into the duodenum, bypassing the stomach, in order to speed up the “fuel” casting as much as possible. But at one "gas station" hummingbirds can only fly for a few minutes. Therefore, they have to save drastically all their lives: nectar is used exclusively for flight, and in other cases, reserve fuel, that is, fat reserves, is used. But even despite the scrupulous distribution of calories, hummingbirds can fly no more than 20% of the time they are awake.

When absolutely necessary, birds use fat for flight. From an energy point of view, it is worse than nectar: ​​its efficiency is less by 16%. However, hummingbirds cannot survive without a fat “airbag”: it is not every day that you can find enough nutritious flowers. Therefore, the fat depots of birds, again unlike people, are formed very quickly and are just as rapidly consumed. This is especially important during the annual migrations that migratory hummingbirds of northern latitudes have to make. For example, buffy hummingbird Selasphorus rufus travels from Canada to Mexico every spring and autumn. During the journey, the birds make several stops, during which they intensively feed and gain fat. During the day, their fat depots can increase by 10% of the total weight of the bird.

At dawn, male hummingbirds fly around their territory


No love

The difficulties of life forced the hummingbirds to despise the most important thing in life - love. In some species, males and females are irreconcilable rivals. Purple Hummingbird Eulampis jugularis lives in the Lesser Antilles and feeds on the nectar of heliconia flowers. Short-billed males are larger and more aggressive than females and monopolize food-rich areas. Although the main dish of males is heliconia, the “universal” short beak helps them easily extract nectar from other small flowers. Voracious males push females to the worst places. To survive, day after day they seek out rare large flowers of heliconia: males do not guard them, because they cannot get to the deeply hidden contents. And only thanks to this long-billed females manage to somehow feed themselves.

Hummingbird eggs are also the smallest among birds


Large animals that do not need to think every second how not to become someone's dinner can afford to be gourmets and choose the most delicious pieces. Tiny hummingbirds are forced to eat anything that provides them with critically needed calories. Previously, it was believed that certain species drink the nectar of only a particular flower. But the reality is much harsher, and the birds cannot pick and choose, looking for that very flower. After all, every minute of flight for a hummingbird is a huge expenditure of energy.

In order to survive, most hummingbirds 'spud' all the large bright flowers with a deep corolla that they can reach. Unless it is more convenient for birds with a long beak to climb into larger flowers, while short-beaked ones prefer small corollas. This specialization allows short- and long-billed species not to compete for resources. But some birds unilaterally violate the "gentleman's agreement." For example, short-beaked hummingbirds Heliothryx barroti instead of being content with small flowers, they steal nectar from large ones by piercing the base of their calyx. At the same time, the plant is not pollinated, so the eared hummingbird behaves like a parasite, reducing the chances of survival not only for relatives, but also for flowers.

In some desperate species, however, pride leaped up, and they refused to eat everything in order to survive. Swordbill hummingbird Ensifora ensifora with an unusually long beak feeds exclusively on the nectar of one species of passionflower - Passiflora mixta . The flower, in turn, is completely dependent on the pollinator - no one else can reach its pollen, hidden deep in the corolla.

In the shade, the fire-throated hummingbird looks dark gray, but in the light of the sun its plumage lights up with all the colors of the rainbow

Competition for fuel

Although it seems that in the rainforests there are countless flowers, there are not enough of them for everyone. Therefore, tiny birds wage an irreconcilable war with each other, competing for nectar. Up to 28 species of hummingbirds can accumulate in one feeding place. Large species rule the ball, pushing small ones to the periphery. Many "babies" in such a situation have no chance at all to get nectar, so they have to climb the mountains. Living there is much more difficult than in the sun-drenched lowlands. For example, the flowers of some cacti in the mountains of northern Brazil bloom for only a few hours, in the late afternoon, and if the ruby ​​hummingbird Chrysolampis mosquitus will miss the time, he will have to starve until the next morning. But, despite the hardships of life in the mountains, there are fewer applicants for valuable nectar.

Finally, hummingbirds have to compete even with those that "big" birds consider food. Among insects, there are many lovers of nectar - these are diurnal butterflies, hawks, and bumblebees. Hummingbirds desperately fight with them for food, and, as a rule, win, but if there are too many arthropods, the birds cannot drive them all away. Moreover, some insects are not inferior in size to them. Wasps and bumblebees are especially dangerous: if one of them stings a crumb, the bird will not have a chance to survive.

Little life: hummingbirds


Nutritional supplements

Feeding only on nectar, hummingbirds run the risk of not getting the necessary amino acids: they need animal proteins for a full life. Therefore, a small but important part of the diet of all species is insects and spiders. Such “additives” are especially needed during breeding and molting periods, when birds need a lot of protein. And to make up for the lack of minerals, hummingbirds, on occasion, eat earth and clay.

Endless food

Not only do hummingbirds, pushed aside by larger species from all “normal” resources, have to eat everything, not their favorite dishes, they are also forced to do it all the time. To replenish the rapidly melting calorie supply due to a frantic metabolism, they have to have a snack every 10-15 minutes. During the day, birds eat up half their own weight in nectar. A few hours of starvation for a hummingbird means certain death.

To save time on food, hummingbirds drink nectar while hovering in the air. This takes a lot of energy, so the birds have learned to empty the corollas of flowers at cosmic speed - in a few seconds. Hummingbirds quickly deal with food with a long tongue, with which they lick nectar, almost like cats or dogs. In a second, birds immerse their tongue in sweet juice up to 20 times.

In order to examine a new flower and decide whether it is worth spending time on it, as well as to drink it to the bottom, hummingbirds have developed precision flight: they have learned to stop abruptly, hover in one place for a long time, fly backwards and even from top to bottom.

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