Photo: Mary Shattock / Flickr / CC BY SA 2.0
Hummingbirds are small birds found in a variety of wild and urban habitats. Other, bigger birds, mammals, and reptiles live in these habitats, too.
Do any of these species hunt and feed on hummingbirds?
As the smallest bird types, hummingbirds have natural predators in every habitat. In most areas, avivorous birds, such as toucans, hawks, merlins, kestrels, and even roadrunners, prey on hummingbirds. Lizards, snakes, and frogs can kill hummingbirds or feed on their eggs. Domestic animals, especially cats, can also be a threat in urban environments.
Hummingbird Habitat, Predation & Defense Mechanisms
There are around 340 hummingbird species worldwide, all of them native (and restricted) to the Americas.
However, hummingbirds can be found all over the New World, from the southernmost parts of South America, such as Tierra del Fuego, to northern Canada and Alaska.
Not only is their geographic range extensive, but hummingbirds can also be found in almost all habitats.
They can live in deserts below sea level, tropical forests, open or forested areas in temperate climates, and even at altitudes above 14,000 feet.
Due to their incredibly small size, hummingbirds are targeted by a variety of predators.
The most common are avivorous birds, which are essentially birds of prey that typically feed on other birds.
However, lizards, frogs, snakes, carnivorous mammals, and even insects can prey on hummingbirds. Some insects can also kill hummingbirds if they perceive them as threats.
To escape these predators, hummingbirds make use of their incredible flying speed of up to 60 miles per hour. They also hide their nests and fly in a zig-zag pattern to avoid leading predators to their young or eggs.
Common Hummingbird Predators
Birds of prey, especially mid-sized ones that typically feed on small birds and insects, are the main predators of hummingbirds.
Depending on habitat, hummingbird predators include sharp-shinned hawks, loggerhead shrikes, merlins, American kestrels, and Mississippi kites.
Crows, orioles, grackles, and even gulls and herons are known to eat hummingbirds.
While hummingbirds aren’t the main prey of shorebirds, both gulls and herons are opportunists and can catch hummingbirds passing through their territory.
Omnivorous birds like the toucans also eat hummingbirds.
Most hummingbirds live in tropical or subtropical forests, and these habitats are also home to a variety of snakes.
Snakes are carnivorous reptiles that feed on anything they can find, including hummingbirds and hummingbird eggs.
However, tropical and subtropical habitats aren’t the only places where these crawling reptiles can feed on hummingbirds. In North America, species like oak snakes have also been documented preying on these birds.
Similar to snakes, lizards actively hunt for tiny species that they can feed on. These species include hummingbirds.
Chameleons and tagus are two lizard types known to eat hummingbirds. However, mid to large-size lizards can also go after hummingbirds or their eggs.
Anoles, some of the most common lizards in North America, have also been observed taking advantage of hummingbird feeders and sometimes attacking the birds trying to reach the nectar.
In most habitats, hummingbird chicks and eggs are also a target for small tree-dwelling mammals such as squirrels, rats, and chipmunks.
In fact, to help protect the eggs and their young, hummingbirds camouflage their nests with moss, lichens, and bits of leaves.
Hummingbirds aren’t a direct prey of bats, but they can become one if these flying mammals mistake them for insects.
Because bats are nocturnal and hummingbirds are diurnal, most people believe that these two species don’t actually meet. However, both hummingbirds and bats are active at dawn and dusk.
Due to their small size and movements that mimic those of insects, hummingbirds can be labeled as insects by these hungry mammals. Bats also feed on hummingbird chicks and eggs.
Cats of all types – including house cats – are also a threat to hummingbirds.
All cats are carnivorous mammals, and like most carnivores, they are opportunists. Wild cats often prefer larger prey, but birds – hummingbirds included – are easy prey that these predators won’t pass.
In urban environments, domestic cats can also kill these birds.
Feral or stray cats typically hunt hummingbirds (and other small birds and mammals) to eat them.
Domestic cats kept as pets don’t have to hunt for nutrients, but scientists concluded that our fluffy friends kill a variety of birds and small mammals just for the fun of it.
Unexpected Hummingbird Predators
Understanding how birds of prey, or even omnivorous birds that spend most of their time flying, catch hummingbirds is easy.
What is unexpected is to see a primarily terrestrial bird species on the list of hummingbird predators. Yet, roadrunners are among the main predators of hummingbirds in North America.
Roadrunners are found all over Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and southern California. They owe their name to their fast-running speeds of up to 26 miles per hour.
These birds are rarely seen flying; however, they can fly.
Or they can at least use their wings for propulsion to catch a hummingbird drinking nectar from a suspended feeder.
Hummingbirds and spiders have a complicated relationship.
The eight-legged crawlers are typically prey for hummingbirds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds also visit spider webs to feed on small insects trapped in them, and they use the web silk to build their nests.
However, these flyers can sometimes get trapped in the web and become easy prey for the spiders.
Orb weaver spiders are one of the species that feed on hummingbirds. Other spider species may not eat the bird but wrap it in webbing or let it die struggling, then cut it loose and let it fall to the ground.
Alongside spiders, some insects also catch and eat hummingbirds.
One of the species documented to eat hummingbirds is the praying mantis, a carnivorous insect that doesn’t come close to hummingbird feeders too often.
However, if the opportunity arises, the ferocious mantis won’t think twice before killing the hummingbird.
Dragonflies are other insects that can kill hummingbirds. Jumbo-sized dragonflies like the common green darners are the most likely culprits.
Such a dragonfly was even photographed killing and eating a hummingbird.
What Can Kill A Hummingbird?
In addition to the predators above, other animals and insects can kill hummingbirds without actually eating them.
Bees and wasps are responsible for a large number of victims.
Both species approach hummingbird feeders to drink the nectar. When crossing paths, the hummingbird can typically fight off a single bee or wasp.
However, when these insects attack in groups, the bird has slim chances of getting out alive.
Domestic dogs can also represent a threat, especially if they are playful pups that like chasing small birds and insects.
Like other small birds and insects, hummingbirds have plenty of predators. Birds of prey, larger omnivorous birds, reptiles, and even large insects prey on them.
Hummingbirds mostly feed on nectar, but they also prey on small spiders and insects.
Reptiles, tree-dwelling mammals, and even birds of prey or herons can also target hummingbird nests and feed on young chicks and eggs.
Read More About Hummingbirds:
- Do Hummingbirds Play Dead?
- Can Hummingbirds See In The Dark?
- Where & How Do Hummingbirds Sleep?
- Can Hummingbirds Fly Backwards?
- Do Blue Jays Attack Hummingbirds?