Hummingbirds are tiny, beautiful birds that take delicate sips from flowers. That’s a common image of hummingbirds, anyway, but there’s much more to their behavior than that.
These birds don’t just drink from flowers, but they also snap up insects and spiders. They can also be very violent towards other birds. Both activities involve the ability to open their beaks.
Hummingbirds can open their beaks. They need to do so to eat insects, which are an important part of their diets along with nectar. They also open their beaks to fend off rival birds. They’ll pull out their feathers and even stab them.
Hummingbirds Open Their Beaks To Eat Insects
Hummingbirds are famous for feeding from flowers. They also pull nectar from trees, vines, and shrubs.
Eating nectar involves the hummingbird’s tongue. Since nectar is a liquid, it may seem like hummingbirds have no need to open their beaks.
However, nectar is not the only thing hummingbirds eat. They also enjoy insects, and to eat such solid substance, they need to be able to open their beaks.
Hummingbird Beaks Are Unique
It also gets wider at the base when it opens. This creates a larger surface area, which the birds need to catch insects.
Hummingbirds also use a “snap-buckling” technique. This involves the lower beak snapping shut as soon as it stretches open to its max.
Venus flytraps and cicadas also exhibit snap-buckling. But the hummingbird is the first known vertebrate to display this behavior.
Hummingbirds can do this because of the unique build of their beaks. Other birds that eat insects, such as swifts, have a cartilaginous hinge at the base of their beaks.
The beak of a hummingbird is instead solid bone. This, along with the flexible nature of the lower beak, is what gives the hummingbird its snapping power.
The extreme bend of the lower beak puts stress onto the bone, which stores the stress as elastic energy. The bird then uses that energy is to snap and catch fast-moving insects.
What Else Do Hummingbirds Eat?
While insects and spiders are an important part of a hummingbird’s diet, they also eat nectar.
Nectar is a sugary liquid that many plants produce inside of their blossoms, leaves, and stems. It’s a form of reward for pollinators like hummingbirds.
In the process of eating the nectar, the hummingbirds come in contact with pollen. The birds then carry the pollen away, and the flowers spread.
Hummingbirds Use Their Tongue For Nectar
The method of eating nectar is quite different from the method of eating insects. There was an old theory that hummingbirds use their beaks as a straw, sucking up nectar to eat.
It is true that the shape of a hummingbird’s beak helps it reach for nectar where other birds can’t. However, experts now know that the tongue is the most important part of this process.
Hummingbirds have a long, thin tongue that stretches to the flower. They then lap up nectar, carrying it up through the beak.
They can only gather a small amount of nectar with each lick. But they can lick up to 13 times per second, so this isn’t a real issue.
Hummingbird Beaks Are Also Weapons
Although hummingbirds have beautiful, jewel-like appearances, they are not gentle creatures.
Male hummingbirds want to have the best territories in order to attract females. Once the female chooses a territory, the males have vicious fights to protect it from other males.
Males will use their beaks – which grow sharper than females’ – to stab each other in the throat.
They also use these sharp beaks to fight other birds, like blue jays, away from feeding spots. They’ll poke and pull out feathers to ensure they get the best flowers.
Some experts believe that hummingbirds didn’t evolve their beaks to eat from flowers. Instead, the opposite may be true.
The nectar deep inside flowers may be an evolutionary response to the long beaks. The flowers developed a pollination incentive around the length of the hummingbird beaks.
Hummingbirds eat nectar from plants as an important part of their diet. As nectar is a liquid, they use their long beaks and long tongues to lap it up.
It seems like there’s little need for hummingbirds to open their beaks, but they can, and they do. Hummingbirds also eat insects for protein, which means they have to be able to open their beaks.
They also use their beaks defensively. Hummingbirds will open them to pull the feathers out of other birds. They also use them as stabbing weapons when defending mating territories and food.