How Long Can a Hummingbird Go Without Food?


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If you have ever been fortunate enough to witness a hummingbird up close, then you will know that their wings go at incredible speeds, often appearing blurry to the human eye. These little birds need plenty of food to keep hovering at such a pace to keep up with the calorie burn. In fact, it can be dangerous for a hummingbird to stop eating even for a little while. But how long can a hummingbird go without food?

Hummingbirds can safely live for between three to five hours without eating during the day. Sadly, after that, they are at risk of starving to death. Although that may not seem like very long, it is essential to understand just how much energy hummingbirds actually use throughout the day!

How long can a hummingbird go without eating?

Hummingbirds will normally go no more than 15 minutes without eating, and even when they do, they may be at rest. In order to be able to keep up with their high metabolisms and be able to have enough energy to complete their daily tasks, hummingbirds often consume the nectar from about one thousand to two thousand flowers every day. Hummingbirds love lavender, zinnia, crepe myrtle… they can’t afford to be too narrow when it comes to food.

As you can imagine, that is quite a lot for a small bird! Therefore, in order to achieve this amount of nectar, hummingbirds often eat every 10 to 15 minutes. This allows their bodies to safely use up the energy they consume throughout the day. 

The hummingbird is rarely choosy about when and how it feeds. Hummingbirds will even eat in the rain if they have to. It’s a matter of survival.

So, if you have the space in your garden, it could really help out these little creatures if you put out a hummingbird feeder – the more nutrition they have available, the better.

Hummingbirds are known to burn anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 calories per day. That’s between three and six times human caloric recommendations during the same period – they are constantly active!

Do hummingbirds need to eat at night? 

No – not necessarily. When night comes, and it is time for the hummingbird to get some much-needed rest, it can naturally slow down its metabolism and consume far less energy. 

This clever technique allows their bodies time to heal as they sleep without consuming food. Unlike many of us who enjoy a midnight snack, hummingbirds tend to leave their cravings until morning! 

This technique is known as torpor, and it is akin to hibernation, albeit for relatively short bursts of time. It’s thought that by entering torpor, hummingbirds can cut their energy demands in half, reducing their metabolic rate by almost 95%.

Can hummingbirds empty a feeder in one day? 

Despite their feeding frenzies, it’s unlikely hummingbirds will completely empty bird feeders in the space of a day. Unless you have an absolute swarm of hummingbirds going to your feeder, then it is unlikely that the one or few in your garden are capable of running your bird table dry.

Hummingbirds have varied diets, and will therefore enjoy seeking out a wide array of different flowers and food sources. Therefore, don’t be surprised if they go elsewhere for the occasional snack.

That said, setting up a hummingbird feeder is a great idea if you want to ensure they always have a backup plan. As mentioned, time is of the essence if you want to keep those wings fluttering.

If your feeder’s running low, hummingbirds are likely not the only creatures to feed out of your bird station. In fact, there are plenty of animals that enjoy sugar water, including bees and bats. Even ants can make their way onto feeders when they want to.

However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Both bats and bees are very beneficial to have in your garden, and neither will disturb your hummingbirds. Just make sure you know when to change hummingbird food to keep them satisfied.

How far can a hummingbird fly without eating? 

Hummingbirds that prepare well for their journeys and are strong enough to make it can travel about 600 miles without stopping for food or water. However, this is never recommended. In fact, hummingbirds are constantly under threat of starvation over their incredible migratory journeys.

Hummingbirds across the US will normally migrate via the Gulf of Mexico – a trip that can take much of a 24-hour day to complete. In order to travel over such a wide space without being able to stop for food or water, the hummingbirds need to fatten themselves up before attempting the journey. They often eat three times their weight in food in order to prepare for the journey. 

However, hummingbirds are also known to stop for food and water on route, meaning that they will carefully survey the land from above as they travel. Did you know that hummingbirds can fly up to 500 feet above ground level during migration?

However, given that the distance from the US over the Gulf of Mexico is about 500 miles, not all of the hummingbirds make it. In that situation, it really is survival of the fittest.

How long do hummingbirds live?

While it may sound as though they have difficult lives, hummingbirds can comfortably live for up to five years in the wild. In fact, some have lived for more than a decade. Many birds that have been kept in zoos and aviaries have lived for 13-14 years. That means a decade and a half of constant feeding and fluttering!

How can I help a hungry hummingbird?

Although a hummingbird’s diet may not be too complicated, it is essential for them to get the sustenance they need at all times. That is why, particularly in areas with few flowers in bloom, or many other birds in the vicinity, it is wise to have a hummingbird feeder out to help them along their way. 

That said, if you can, make sure to grow flowers hummingbirds love in your garden. Hummingbirds love perennials – and succulents are known to bring hummingbirds flocking, too. They don’t tend to be very discerning birds, providing they can get their beaks into some lovely nectar. Just keep it coming because they have a calorie deficit to fill!

About The Author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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