Hummer Beware!

A bird that weighs less than two pennies faces a LOT of danger! Here are a few of the hazards that hummingbirds face:

  • This hummingbird was trapped in a garage and almost starved to death.
    Spiders. One hummer watcher writes, "I watched this walker spider for about 3 weeks, fascinated by its size and beauty. Thank goodness one afternoon I noticed a big movement in a shrub...a hummer was caught in a web and the spider was on its way. The hummer tore up the web but couldn't fly. I grabbed the bird and shooed away the spider and the hummer was hollering and I pulled off the webs as best I could and I was real surprised how strong they were...some felt like piano wire!!" How can a spider manage to eat a hummingbird? First the spider injects the hummer with a poison to kill the hummer. The toxin liquefies the hummer, and little by little the spider sucks it in. Using this technique, a large tarantula can liquefy and suck out a mouse, leaving nothing but a little pile of fur and bones, in 36 hours flat. And hummingbirds weigh less than most mice!

  • Window Screens. Janey writes, "I spotted a hummer caught in the screen door. Her beak got stuck! She freed herself. You know, I'm wondering about their safety a lot these days. If I feed them to close to the house, what are the chances that one could hit the window or get stuck in the screen and die?" Tropical ornithologist Alexander Skutch had that same problem. He spent a lot of time helping hummers whose bills had become stuck in his window screens, and when he was away, he sometimes returned home to hummers who had died from starvation or stress in his screens. He solved the problem by taking out his window screens, so hummers often fly right through his house! In Costa Rica, where he lives, there are a lot more creatures than hummers who can enter a house through a screenless window, including poisonous snakes and spiders. But for Skutch that was a minor problem compared to finding these poor dead hummingbirds.

  • Fish and Frogs. There are many documented cases of fish and frogs snapping up hummingbirds.
  • Drowning. Tired hummers have dropped into the Gulf of Mexico and other bodies of water, and strong winds have pushed them into water, where they drown.
  • Thistles and thorns. There are many documented cases of hummers being tangled in burdock thistle flowers
  • Insects. At least one Ruby-throated Hummingbird was pinned to the ground by a dragonfly, and there are several records of praying mantises snatching them at flowers!
  • Buildings. Some hummingbirds crash into windows, and sometimes they find their way into a building and can't find their way out. To read the true story of a hummer that got lost in a building and was rescued, see The Hummer in the Garage.
  • Cats. This is the most preventable danger of all. Cats are fascinated by the quick movements of hummingbirds, and often lurk near a hummingbird feeder, ready to pounce when a hummer zips past. Even if the hummer escapes, one puncture wound from a cat's claws or teeth will introduce bacteria into the hummingbird's bloodstream, killing it within days. Please! Keep your kitty indoors!

Despite all these dangers, many hummingbirds manage to live long lives. If hummingbird banders retrap a hummingbird after putting a band on its leg, they can tell how long the bird has lived between the two captures. The US Geological Survey keeps records of how long banded birds have survived at the Patuxent Laboratory in Maryland. Here are the hummingbird longevity records, as of May, 2000:

  • Magnificent Hummingbird 7 years, 01 month
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird 6 years, 11 months
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird 9 years, 01 month
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird 7 years, 00 months
  • Anna's Hummingbird 6 years, 04 months
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird 12 years, 02 months
  • Rufous Hummingbird 8 years, 01 month
  • Allen's Hummingbird 4 years, 00 months
  • Calliope Hummingbird 6 years, 01 month
  • Lucifer Hummingbird 4years, 01 month
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird 6 years, 01 month

Try This! One Bird's Life
  • To learn how old other banded birds have lived, see the Patuxent Bird Banding Laboratory's Website. Choose one of the birds and create a way to tell about its life as you imagine it. Write a autobiography, draw a "photo album" or write a letter from the bird's point of view.