Do Hummingbirds Eat Butterflies? (Explained)


Hummingbirds seem like small, delicate creatures with their thin beaks and iridescent feathers. They’re famous for sipping nectar from flowers, but they do have other nutritional needs.

Do hummingbirds eat butterflies as a supplement to their nectar drinking?

No, hummingbirds do not eat butterflies. While they do eat very small insects for protein, a hummingbird’s beak and mouth aren’t built for bulky butterflies. Hummingbirds have to be able to swallow insects whole, and even small butterflies are too awkward for them to eat. Butterflies and hummingbirds can live in harmony together in many flower gardens.

Butterflies Are Too Large For Hummingbirds To Eat

Although hummingbirds are famous for eating nectar, they do need some form of protein in their diet. This comes in the form of small insects, similar to other small birds.

Despite eating some insects, there’s no evidence that hummingbirds eat butterflies. Many butterflies are just too large for a hummingbird to eat.

Butterflies do come in a large range of sizes, but even the smallest ones aren’t compact enough for a hummingbird. Hummingbirds have very long and thin beaks. The bottom half is also flexible and can bend up to 25 degrees.

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This design helps them drink nectar and snatch small insects out of the air. However, it also means that they can’t dismember larger insects as other birds do. Therefore, they go after prey that’s small enough to swallow whole.

Hummingbirds Need Nectar For Their Fast Metabolisms

In general, most of a hummingbird’s diet consists of nectar. Nectar is a sugary liquid that flowers produce in order to attract pollinators like hummingbirds.

When the hummingbirds come to eat from the flower, they get pollen stuck to their bodies.

Then, the pollen is spread through the air as the hummingbird flies around, and the flowers can grow elsewhere.

Hummingbirds will only consume nectar which is at least 10% sugar. This provides them with most of the energy they need for their high metabolisms. 

A hummingbird’s heart beats at up to 1,260 bpm and they take 250 breaths per minute even at rest.

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They also have an average body temperature of 102.2°F (39°C). That’s over four degrees higher than the average human temperature.

Some hummingbirds can eat up to twice their body weight in nectar each day. They have to eat almost constantly while awake to keep up with their caloric needs.

It’s very important for hummingbirds to have the right kind and amount of nectar. So, they can be very protective of their food sources. In fact, hummingbirds will actually “sword fight” one another for food and mating territories.

Their long beaks aren’t just for eating; hummingbirds will actually stab each other to defend their territory.

They Have Special Beaks And Tongues

Hummingbirds have special physical traits that help them eat nectar. First, their long beaks help them reach down into flowers they might not be able to reach otherwise.

Then, they have long tongues they use to pull the nectar up into their mouths. They don’t actually use suction for feeding; instead, their tongues lap up the nectar, almost like a dog.

Each lick only brings them a small amount of nectar, but hummingbirds are fast eaters. They can lick up to 13 times every second.

Butterflies Also Eat Nectar

Butterflies are not only off the menu for hummingbirds, but they actually share a similar diet to these small birds.

They have a proboscis, which is a long tongue they can curl and uncurl. Like hummingbirds, they use these long tongues to pull nectar up from inside flowers.

Unlike hummingbirds, though, butterflies only eat liquids, so they can’t eat other insects at all. They may eat from rotting fruit and tree sap in addition to nectar, though.

5 Tips To Attract Both Hummingbirds And Butterflies

Pollinators play a very important role in maintaining ecological balance. Without them, some trees and flowers wouldn’t be able to spread their seeds.

Eventually, these plants would die out, and species loss is dangerous for the entire planet.

In fact, around 80% of all crop plants require pollinators. Pollination also helps create and maintain genetic diversity, which increases species survival.

You can help encourage biodiversity and enjoy a colorful garden filled with both hummingbirds and butterflies. Because they both eat nectar, they both enjoy similar flowers, making it easy to plan your garden for them.

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You now also know that any butterflies that visit will not be in danger from the hummingbirds you attract. Here are 5 tips to help bring both butterflies and hummingbirds to your backyard or garden.

1. Plant Red Flowers And Wildflowers

Hummingbirds and butterflies find red flowers attractive. Flowers like zinnias and bee balm are favorites of hummingbirds in particular.

Wildflowers are another good option because they’re easy to care for and promote biodiversity. Just ensure that your wildflowers get plenty of sunlight each day.

2. Choose Native Plants

It’s always a good idea to research which birds and insects are native to your area. This is because you can then offer flowers that you know they’re familiar with.

When in doubt, planting native flowers is always a good idea. Not only are they likely to grow better, but they’ll keep the natural balance of the environment in check.

After all, some flowers may look beautiful but could be harmful to wildlife or even other plants.

3. Offer Consistent Food And Shelter

Natural nectar from flowers is always going to be the safest option for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.

However, if you can’t grow nectar-rich flowers year-round or just want an extra boost, you can add a hummingbird feeder.

They’re easy to maintain and refill, either with store-bought nectar or nectar you can make yourself. Just be sure to avoid using honey in your feeders; it may do more harm than good.

You can also make sure your yard has plenty of good nesting places for hummingbirds.

Small shrubs and low deciduous trees are great options. Keep the leaves and branches well-trimmed so they have places to both nest and perch.

4. Make A Puddling Station

Butterflies don’t only eat from flowers. They can also sip nutrients from mud puddles, among other sources.

When a group of pollinators gathers around a nutrient source to feed, this is known as “puddling.”

One way to attract butterflies to your garden is to create an inviting puddling station. Fill a terracotta dish with all-purpose, natural sand. Avoid sand with additives such as coloring.

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Then, add water to the sand so that it’s moist but not soaking. Add more water to keep things damp as you need, and you should have butterflies flocking to your garden.

You can strategically place your puddling station for better viewing as well. If you have an old stump in your yard, try placing the dish there. Or use a small decorative table close to your porch or windows to house the puddling station.

5. Avoid Pesticides

The problem with pesticides is two-fold. First, their obvious purpose is to deter insects; this includes butterflies. A pesticide may not be designed for killing butterflies, but they aren’t likely to enjoy flying nearby, regardless.

Second, pesticides will reduce the population of insects that hummingbirds actually eat. With fewer food sources available, hummingbirds are less likely to visit your yard.

Help the environment and make a better living space for nature’s visitors – avoid or reduce your use of pesticides.

In Conclusion

If you want to experience the beauty of hummingbirds as well as butterflies, never fear! Although hummingbirds do need to eat some insects, they are not known for eating butterflies.

You can actually build a garden that attracts both animals because they both eat nectar. Flowers produce nectar which butterflies and hummingbirds lap up with their tongues.

You can plant a variety of nectar-rich flowers, offer shelter, and even create your own food sources. Pollinators will flock to your yard, and you don’t have to worry about the hummingbirds eating the butterflies.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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