Time Out from Feeding

Eating Big Amounts
Hummingbirds are famous for the amount of food they eat. One ornithologist calculated that they eat at least half of their body weight in sugar (not even counting the water in nectar!) every day. You'd think they'd need to spend every waking moment eating to get that amount of food, but they don't. As a matter of fact, some researchers have found that they make feeding flights 14 to 18 times every hour, and each feeding flight lasts less than a minute. Hummingbirds don't spend as much of each hour feeding as we might think.

Four Minutes From Full
Hummingbirds have a tiny stomach and crop (the little storage pouch in their esophagus). Once these are full, the hummer can't eat any more until the crop is about half empty again. It takes about four minutes to drain about half the nectar into the stomach and intestines, and then the hummer takes off again.

Taking a Break
What do hummers do when not eating? Mostly they sit on tiny branches or wires. They look like they're resting, but their bodies are busy digesting. Their eyes and minds are busy studying the world. Journey North science writer Laura Erickson sees them perched a lot. She says they seem to notice everything going on around them. They make little chittering sounds when eagles and other predators fly over, and even seem to follow her with their eyes and bill.

Try This! Journaling Questions
  • Why does it make sense that even when hummingbirds are sitting still, they're watchful for any potential threats? (Hint: Think about a hummer's only means of defense and escape.)
  • If hummingbirds make feeding flights 14 to 18 times every hour during daylight, and each feeding flight lasts less than a minute, about how much time in each daylight hour do hummers feed?