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When we think of hummingbirds, we tend to picture tiny creatures that never seem to stop moving. Hummingbirds are some of the most active animals in our gardens, and it’s hard to catch one taking a rest! But, do hummingbirds sleep?
Yes, hummingbirds sleep – and can slow down their heartbeats and metabolisms! Hummingbirds have mastered the art of sleep by taking it one step further, into a state of torpor. This means they frequently take mini-hibernations.
How do hummingbirds sleep – what exactly is torpor?
Torpor is a state of deep sleep akin to a short hibernation. To save energy, hummingbirds slow their heartbeats, breathing, and metabolisms. Hummingbirds remain highly active during the day, which means they typically need a deep resting period to recharge.
If you have ever seen a hummingbird swinging upside down from a branch, then the chances are that it was in a state of torpor – like bats, they frequently hang this way while resting. This position helps them to better control their bodily functions as they slow down.
In some cases, this state can make for a bizarre sight – as a torpor-induced hummingbird may be mistaken for dead. Don’t worry – they are simply ‘switching off’ their bodies, or turning them down to the absolute minimum processes.
This is all in the name of saving energy. It’s thought that a hummingbird entering torpor may be able to reserve up to 90% of its total energy. Since hummingbirds barely stop moving, this energy is well-saved, especially in winter. Torpor also reduces hummingbird metabolisms to an incredible extent – decreasing to up to one-fifteenth!
As shocking as it may be to see, there is no need to worry. Hummingbirds can enter a state of torpor during the day and at night. You’ll normally find a hummingbird keeps its eyes closed during torpor, too – and will only open them when stirring from sleep.
Upon exiting torpor, it can take hummingbirds between 20 minutes to an hour to get going again! During this time, their bodies start slowly taking in more oxygen – and as they are so intensely active while awake, hummingbirds need this time to ‘power up’.
While rousing from torpor, hummingbirds can make little noises that many believe sound like snoring – but, again, there’s no need for concern, as it’s part of their rousing process. Some hummingbirds, such as the amethyst-throated sunangel, may even open their beaks and stick their tongues out to take in oxygen while rousing – it’s to help them safely stir from deep sleep.
If you see a hummingbird hanging upside down or in an otherwise vegetative state, don’t touch it! It’s highly likely to be sleeping – and it should rouse and start hunting for nectar again in a few hours.
Do hummingbirds hibernate during the winter?
No, hummingbirds do not hibernate during the winter. Despite the fact they frequently enter torpor, there’s rarely any need for hummers to rest out the winter.
They must adapt their diets and sleeping patterns to handle the cold, but as long as it isn’t freezing, they may even stay in the same places during the colder months. Hummingbirds eat high-calorie, high-fat food to withstand the cold – they don’t have the thick plumage of other birds, and must therefore stock up on calories to help insulate their bodies. They will also lower their body temperatures during torpor, resulting in an almost hypothermic state!
For hummingbirds that prefer a little sunshine over the winter period, many species have been known to migrate from the US towards Central America, or even deeper into South America. The ruby-throated hummingbird, for example, is a species that frequently flies across the Gulf of Mexico in one intensive day – that’s more than 500 miles in the air just to get warm!
There, they spend the winters before returning north for the spring and summers. They have even been known to return to the exact same spot year after year if they have enough food and water available.
Conversely, the rufous hummingbird travels from Mexico up towards the north around early spring, choosing to loop around south down the Rockies by the summer. These birds are said to make some of the longest migratory flights of any species worldwide – around 3,900 miles traveled, on average, per year!
Interestingly, most birds don’t hibernate fully at all – torpor is a chosen state of energy conservation for avian species. Only a single species of bird – the common poorwill – chooses to rest for weeks or months at a time. This may be considered hibernation, though it is technically an extended period of torpor.
If you have hummingbirds in your garden during the winter, be sure to help them with a feeder full of sugar water, mimicking nectar. Those that choose to stay ‘at home’ won’t have the same access to nectar from flowers they can expect during the summer, so you can effectively replicate this expectation.
How long do hummingbirds need to sleep for?
Typically, hummingbirds sleep for up to 12 hours every night. Usually, the presence of sunlight wakes them up thanks to their diurnal cycles. But, it’s not uncommon to see hummingbirds resting during the day, too.
You’ll generally expect a hummingbird to sleep between 8 and 16 hours per day, depending on the weather, season, and activity from the day just passed.
For a good night’s rest, hummingbirds will seek out shady areas to sleep, especially during the summer when nights are shorter. Otherwise, they prefer the wide-open sunshine when active and feeding.
Torpor duration will vary from species to species, too. If food is in short supply, or if predators are nearby, hummingbird torpor duration will alter accordingly. The same applies if, for example, a male hummingbird must stay alert to protect its territory.
What time do hummingbirds go to sleep?
As diurnal creatures, hummingbirds typically sleep or enter torpor after the sun goes down. There are rare exceptions to this rule, with hummers occasionally opting for siestas during the winter in an effort to conserve energy and to beat the cold.
You’ll rarely, if ever, see a hummingbird active at night. A nocturnally active hummer is likely to be migrating, just getting to sleep, or will be confused by light from artificial sources. As they depend on the sun to dictate when they can sleep, street lights and traffic can confuse these birds’ internal rhythms.
Otherwise, a hummingbird taking a nap is likely to be taking a well-deserved rest from a day of intense activity. Hummingbirds’ hearts beat 500 times a minute – and they effectively live in a state of near-starvation from day to day.
Hummingbirds entering torpor during the day usually do so to ‘top up’ as an emergency. This means they may not have received enough quality rest during the night, having been disturbed or forced to move from their resting place, for example.
How often will hummingbirds choose to sleep?
Torpor generally occurs once a day. Unlike many other animals, hummingbirds can’t survive by taking ‘occasional naps’. Torpor is a state that requires at least eight hours of dedicated rest – to interrupt this process may result in risking death.
Hummingbirds will rouse from torpor only in dire circumstances – for example, if they sense a predator, or if they are protecting their territory or nest. Otherwise, much like humans, hummers will sleep for one long stretch per day.
Where do hummingbirds usually sleep?
When looking for a good snooze, hummers will happily settle for a thin twig that they can wrap their feet around. This ensures that they are stable and that they won’t fall out of a tree as they sleep. The twig has to be strong enough to support its weight, regardless of whether they are upside down or right-side up.
Most hummers will usually choose a twig that has some coverage from the sun and wind. They will fly high enough up in a tree to get away from predators, then rest until the morning rolls around.
Coverage is also great for protecting from rain and snow – hummingbirds need all the peace they can get to power up again. If they find perches and coverage they like enough, hummers will typically use the same resting spots from night to night (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!).
It’s a misconception that hummingbirds sleep in nests – at least, they don’t choose to unless they have young to look after.
During nesting season, hummingbirds typically build nests in tall trees with plenty of coverage. This helps to protect them from predators, other birds, heat, and sunlight. They especially love the coverage of leaves or large branches, meaning they will frequently hunt down large, sprawling trees for extra protection.
If nesting, parent hummingbirds will normally only leave their resting zones if their children are old enough to grow feathers and effectively look after themselves.
It’s not unheard of for hummingbirds to sleep in wide-open spaces, though it is extremely rare. Rather than opt for sleeping in the open, most species will simply find safer coverage for torpor elsewhere in the local area.
Will hummingbirds sleep in my birdhouse?
No, hummingbirds do not typically sleep in birdhouses. This is simply because they do not like being boxed in on all sides. Even if your birdhouse is large enough to fit an eagle, hummingbirds will still keep clear of it.
That is one of many reasons why their nests are found on tree branches as opposed to in holes made in trees and buildings – unlike woodpeckers who burrow into hollow trees, hummingbirds prefer more open spaces for the sake of security.
Do hummingbirds sleep in pairs or groups?
No, hummingbirds do not sleep together. They are very solitary birds, so their nests usually only have space for eggs and one parent.
When in a state of torpor, hummingbirds have evolved to rest without needing others to help keep them warm or secure. There’s little need for concern – as their sleeping habits rarely put them in harm’s way of predators. As torpor allows hummingbirds to lower their body temperatures and reduce their metabolisms, they are internally protected for warmth – and won’t need the body heat of others.
Predators likely to eat hummingbirds will typically seize upon them when they fly low to the ground. For example, they may be quick snacks for curious cats or even easy prey for lizards and frogs who can catch them with their tongues.
By sleeping solo and high up in trees, the risk of a hummingbird getting eaten during torpor is extremely low. This behavior may also help deter predators because they don’t attract unwanted attention in large numbers. If sensing a threat, a hummingbird may be able to flutter away, solo, if the need arises.
What can I do to help hummingbirds sleep?
The best thing to do to help hummingbirds feel safe enough to torpor at night in your garden is simply to continue providing reliable sources of food. It’s a good idea to grow flowers that hummingbirds love and to set up a feeder with sugar water or nectar substitute, particularly during winter.
Otherwise, hummingbirds will prefer to torpor in tall, well-covered trees. If you already have a few towering growths in your garden or intend to welcome hummingbirds in your yard with trees, you are already doing more than enough to protect their torpor cycles.
Hummingbirds need sleep just as much as any other creature – in fact, their intense metabolisms and high activity demand a deeper state of rest than you might expect! If you see a hummer you believe to be dead – it may just be resting, so leave well alone.