Most of us are familiar with hummingbird feeders that are filled with store bought or homemade nectar. We have also seen hummingbirds drink from nectar feeders as well as fly from flower to flower, probing with their long bill for the nectar inside. But what most people don’t know, is that a large part of the hummingbird diet is insects!
A well rounded hummingbird diet consists of both nectar and insects. Nectar is great for quick energy, and keeping up with hummingbirds incredibly fast metabolism. But nectar only provides sugar, carbohydrates and some amino acids. Insects can add needed proteins, vitamins and fats.
Hummingbirds swallow their prey whole. Their legs are short and stubby and can’t help with grasping or tearing prey. Their bills are long and thin, not well suited for cracking open a hard shell. So their only option is to choose small, soft bodied insects that they can swallow easily.
Hummingbirds favorite insects to eat
- fruit flies
- small beetles
How to feed insects to hummingbirds
In the wild, sap from trees (exposed by sapsuckers) as well as fruit (especially rotting fruit) can attract a lot of fruit flies. By using overripe fruit, you can attract fruit flies for your hummingbirds to feast on.
1. Use a specialized feeder
Used sliced bananas inside this feeder to attract fruit flies, that will then swarm and multiply in the feeder. The red on the feeder will attract hummingbirds, that can then fly past and catch fruit flies buzzing around the outside or sit on the perch ring and probe into the feeders slits.
This can be very hit or miss, as you can see by the reviews. And anytime you have fruit sitting outside you run the risk of attracting other pests you might not want. Keep that in mind if trying this method.
2. DIY bucket feeding
By breeding fruit flies in a bucket, you can release some beneficial insects to your hummingbirds every day. I found this DIY method that might be fun to try –
- Using an empty bucket with a lid, drill several small holes in the lid
- Add two bananas to the bucket and leave outside with the lid off for a day or two. Once you see fruit flies on the fruit, close the lid and move the bucket to the shade.
- The fruit flies will soon begin to breed and now the bucket is your own little fruit fly farm. Once a day, go out to your hummingbird feeder and open the lid of the bucket for a few minutes. This will allow some of the flies to escape for the hummingbirds to catch. Then close the lid on the bucket again since you need to keep some flies in there to continue laying eggs and creating more flies. Add bananas and fruit scraps as needed.
An interesting idea and some of the most savvy hummingbirds might catch on that seeing the bucket means more bug treats.
3. Leave leaf litter
Certain types of gnats love moist areas of decaying plant material, such as piles of old leaves and grass clippings. If you have the space, consider leaving a “compost pile” of leaves and yard clippings on your property.
4. Plant fruiting shrubs, bushes and trees
You can attract fruit loving flies and many other insects without using special feeders by planting some native fruit trees or berry bushes in your yard. As the fruit passes its peak of ripeness, make sure you leave some hanging or that have fallen to the ground. Let them become overripe to attract even more bugs.
5. Avoid using pesticides
Not only are pesticides and insecticides potentially harmful to birds directly, but by drastically reducing the insect population in your yard, you are depriving hummingbirds (and many other birds) from their protein food source.
If you absolutely need to do some pest control, try and keep it confined to a specific location rather than spraying a large area. Also when possible look for solutions that will address the specific insect you are having trouble with, but will leave others unharmed.
How do hummingbirds catch insects?
The main way hummingbirds catch insects is by “hawking”, which is catching them in mid-air. Hummingbirds are master aerial acrobats. They are blindingly fast, can hover, turn on a dime and even fly backwards. So catching up to an insect is no problem.
When researchers studied their long bills, they found that hummingbirds beaks are firm yet bendy, and they can open their bills as much as 25 degrees. Also, when their bills are opened this wide, the anatomy of the bill causes it to immediately “snap back” shut, in less than a hundredth of a second.
Spiders are another hummingbird favorite. Hummingbirds are very good at finding spider webs, and they use the silk from spider webs to help build their nests. They weave it with their nest to help attach the nest to the tree, and to keep moss, lichen and other nest materials in place.
Some of the most skilled hummingbirds learn how to grab caught insects right from a spiders web, and will eat the spider itself as long as it is small enough. “Daddy long legs” or “harvestmen “, which are in the arachnid family but are technically not spiders, are another favorite meal. So leave some of those cobwebs in the corners!
If you’re feeling adventurous in the yard and want to try something new, try your hand at fruit fly feeders. If you’re worried the smell of the decaying fruit will attract visitors you don’t want to attract, you can still make your yard hospitable to insects.
Plant lots of native flowers, shrubs and fruiting plants, and cut down on pesticide use. Make sure to leave some areas not perfectly groomed…leaf litter, fallen fruits and grass that isn’t cut super short. Having your nectar feeder, as well as a yard with plentiful insects is sure to make it a hummingbird haven. (Im