Do Hummingbirds Make Good Pets?

Costa's Hummingbird feeder
© Rick Scuteri/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kristen Holder

Published: December 8, 2023

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Hummingbirds are small, quick, and colorful birds that delight gardeners and homeowners. Because they’re so unique, it may be tempting to capture one or find one for sale. Do hummingbirds make good pets?

What is a Hummingbird?

A hummingbird is a small bird that beats its wings so fast that they cause humming when flying.

A

hummingbird

is a small bird that beats its wings so fast that they cause humming when flying.

©Steve Byland/ via Getty Images

Hummingbirds are small birds native to North, Central, and South America. Approximately 366 species of these birds range from the tip of South America to Alaska. These birds are the smallest in existence, most averaging between three to five inches long, though some are smaller or larger.

They earned their name as hummingbirds because their fast-beating wings create an audible humming noise. They flap their wings about twelve to eighty times per second, depending on the size of the hummingbird species.

A few hummingbird species migrate over huge distances, while others tolerate high altitudes. They have intense metabolisms that are the highest of any invertebrates. This supports their ability to fly fast and maneuver quickly in flight.

Hummingbirds live on average about six years, with the longest verified lifespan of one individual being twelve years. The larger the hummingbird, the longer they tend to live, though this isn’t a steadfast rule.

Do Hummingbirds Make Good Pets?

No, hummingbirds make terrible pets, and trying to keep one as a pet will probably kill it. They need large home ranges that they can vehemently defend, and keeping them confined causes stress.

When enclosed in a small space, hummingbirds cannot zip around as quickly as they do in the wild. As a result, their physical health deteriorates because they can’t move around like they should.

Hummingbirds will become malnourished as their diets are not easily replicated in captivity. They take advantage of different nectars from various flowers across their large home ranges, and they also eat a wide variety of insects daily that cannot be provided to captive birds.

What Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Small insects and flower nectar make up a hummingbird's diet.

Small insects and flower nectar make up a hummingbird’s diet.

©Jiri Hrebicek/Shutterstock.com

Hummingbirds eat nectar from flowers and small insects. They have elongated beaks used to access nectar buried deep within the flowers they feed on. While nectar is their main energy source, they cannot survive alone.

Nectar does not contain the nutrients like amino acids and lipids vital to a healthy life. As a result, they need access to bugs, which provide them with the nutrients not contained in flower nectar. In the absence of nectar, they can survive on bugs alone.

There is artificial hummingbird food available to professionals, but it goes bad very quickly and has to be refreshed a few times per day. This means that no suitable food is available for any hummingbirds trapped as pets. However, sugar water is easy to make and a welcome addition to the food needs of wild birds in backyards or gardens.

It is illegal to own hummingbirds in the United States. There are no legal breeders of hummingbirds for the pet industry, and it is also illegal to capture a wild bird. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects hummingbirds, and violating these laws will result in huge fines and possible jail time.

It is also illegal to try to rehabilitate injured or sick hummingbirds. Only licensed rehabilitation organizations can hold on to hummingbirds for more than 48 hours. If you find a hummingbird needing help, you must find a licensed rehabber within 2 days to avoid breaking any laws.

Can Humans Befriend Wild Hummingbirds?

While humans can befriend wild hummingbirds, they should never purposefully restrain them.

While humans can befriend wild hummingbirds, they should never purposefully restrain them.

©Lenin Suntaxi/Shutterstock.com

Yes, humans can befriend wild hummingbirds. However, interacting with a tamed hummingbird that’s still wild is completely different than treating a hummingbird like a domesticated pet.

People who regularly tend to feeders used by the same hummingbirds will find that the birds may recognize them. As they become more comfortable with a human’s presence, they will buzz in front of faces, and it may be possible to have one perch on an outstretched finger while it feeds. However, restraining a bird or purposefully trying to touch a bird is illegal.

Sometimes, baby hummingbirds are found on the ground after falling out of their nests. It’s fine to pick up the baby and return it to its nest if it can be located. Hummingbirds will not reject a baby handled by people, and they have no sense of smell, so they probably won’t even realize a human touched their young.

Are There Hummingbirds in Zoos?

There are some hummingbirds in zoos, but for the most part, zoos have stopped trying to keep hummingbirds on display because they’re too hard to keep alive in captivity. The diversity of flora and bugs these birds need makes it hard for even educated zookeepers to provide appropriate husbandry.

Despite the hurdles of keeping hummingbirds, some zoos have them in their collection. For example, the San Diego Zoo opened a walkthrough hummingbird habitat in 2021. Another location to see enclosed hummingbirds is at the Dallas World Aquarium.

Other zoos and gardens curate outdoor areas specifically to attract hummingbirds for visitors. Some of these places are the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono Chul, UCR Botanic Gardens, Missouri Botanical Garden, the Urban Bird Habitat at the Smithsonian Gardens, Rotary Botanical Gardens, the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and other spaces.

What Garden Flowers Attract Hummingbirds?

Keeping flowers like bee balms in your garden will attract hummingbirds to your yard.

Keeping flowers like bee balms in your garden will attract hummingbirds to your yard.

©Matt Cuda/Shutterstock.com

Since hummingbirds are constantly hunting for food, gardens can be curtailed to their needs so that more appear. Not only should plants with nectar sources be grown, but plants that attract certain small bugs should also be present for optimal hummingbird health.

Good plants for a garden designed to attract hummingbirds include:

  • Baby Sages (Salvia microphylla)
  • Bee Balms (Monarda)
  • Blue Salvias (Salvia azurea)
  • Bolivian Hummingbird Sages (Salvia oxyphora)
  • Butterfly Milkweeds (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Button Bushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
  • Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Columbines (Aquilegia)
  • Copper Irises (Iris fulva)
  • Coral Honeysuckles (Lonicera sempervirens)
  • Eastern Blazing Stars (Liatris scariosa)
  • Hummingbird Mints (Agastache)
  • Jewel Weeds (Impatiens capensis)
  • Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia)
  • Mountain Mints (Pycnanthemum)
  • Red Buckeye Trees (Aesculus pavia)
  • Red Royal Catchflies (Silene regia)
  • Rose Verbenas (Verbena canadensis)
  • Smooth Beard Tongues (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Snapdragon Vines (Maurandella antirrhiniflora)
  • Trumpet Creepers (Campsis radicans)
  • Turtleheads (Chelone)
  • Virginia Blue Bells (Mertensia virginica)
  • Western Sunflowers (Helianthus occidentalis)
  • Wild Bergamots (Monarda fistulosa)
  • Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum)
  • Wild Sweet Williams (Phlox divaricata)


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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