Have you ever seen a baby hummingbird in real life? They usually stay hidden well out of sight until they take flight. By then, they are as large, if not larger than their parents. Hummingbird chicks grow up amazingly fast, and they need a lot of food to support their growth. But what exactly do they eat? Baby hummingbirds eat a mixture of high-protein insect and spider parts and nectar, provided directly by their mother.
How Often Are Baby Hummingbirds Fed?
Baby hummingbirds hatch from tiny eggs in nests fashioned from spiderwebs, bits of moss, and lichens. They emerge naked, helpless, and extraordinarily hungry.
My kids and I spent part of a summer a few years ago watching a hummingbird nest cam as a pair of chicks hatched and grew. The mother fed the baby hummingbirds frequently. One could tune in almost any time of the day and catch a feeding within less than half an hour.
Baby hummingbirds eat, on average, about two to three times per hour. Mother hummingbirds work hard, all by themselves, from the time they begin building their nests to a week or two after their chicks fledge. They incubate their eggs alone, take care of all the feedings, and guard the nest. Meanwhile, male hummingbirds do pretty much nothing other than impregnate females and move on.
What Do Baby Hummingbirds Eat?
As mentioned above, baby hummingbirds eat a mixture of nectar and insect parts that have a high protein content. The mother hummingbird catches insects such as mosquitoes and flies, spiders, and various larvae. Some of what she catches, she holds in her crop, a sac in their throat used for storing food. These insect parts mix with nectar and partially digest, becoming a soupy concoction perfect for helping chicks grow.
How Do Hummingbirds Feed Their Babies?
Mother hummingbirds must feed themselves first, so they have enough energy to care for their young. Then they return to the nest with the partially digested mixture of food in their crop to feed their nestlings. Most hummingbirds have just one or two chicks per brood. The hungry chicks raise their heads with their mouths wide open when their mother approaches the nest. She inserts her long bill deep in each chick’s throat and regurgitates some of the liquid mixture from her crop. The baby hummingbirds eat their meal by swallowing what they are given.
How Long Do Hummingbirds Feed Their Young?
More than 350 different species of hummingbirds exist around the world. The length of time each species takes to incubate their eggs and fledge their chicks varies. Most hummingbirds seem to average about three weeks from the time their eggs hatch until their chicks take their first flight. At this time, the mother feeds them so well that they might exceed her size. Still, she keeps feeding and looking after them for at least another week or two, and in some species up until the chicks reach about two months of age.
What Happens to Abandoned Hummingbirds?
Because baby hummingbirds need to eat so frequently, they can easily die if something happens to their mother. The nest cam my family watched years ago was trained on a rose bush where a mother hummingbird had made several nests and raised multiple broods of chicks. Sadly, the second brood we watched that fateful summer, something went wrong. When the chicks were about a week old, the mother left the nest and failed to return. The owner of the nest cam waited about two hours for the mother to reappear, but she did not.
If the baby hummingbirds had not been nest cam stars, they might have died without anyone ever having known that they’d been abandoned. Such is the fate of most hummingbird chicks whose mothers disappear before they manage to fledge. As it happened, the lady of the garden contacted a wildlife specialist quickly and learned how to take care of the baby hummingbirds until a rescuer could arrive on the scene. The mother hummingbird never again appeared at the nest site, but her babies survived.
Can I Feed Baby Hummingbirds?
You should not attempt to feed baby hummingbirds on your own. The nectar that adult hummingbirds eat does not have the protein needed for the rapid growth of hummingbird chicks. Getting the right ratio of proteins and sugar, and then feeding the baby hummingbirds two to three times each hour is tricky even for experienced bird rehabilitators. Getting things wrong could harm or even kill the baby birds.
If you believe you have found an abandoned nest of baby hummingbirds, wait and observe carefully. Do not approach or touch the nest in case the mother is nearby and might be frightened away. If the mother has not returned for more than an hour, call your nearest wildlife rescue. They may give you specific instructions on how to offer the baby hummingbirds a temporary nectar that will get them by until a trained rehabilitator can take over.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Freebilly Photography/Shutterstock.com
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