How to Care for Your Pet Hummingbird

Even though their tiny body size may tell you otherwise, hummingbirds are anything but frail. Doesn’t it beat you how these delicate birds manage to fly all day at a neck-breaking pace? We are just as puzzled. On top of that, these colorful little avian creatures are a beauty to behold and a joy to watch.

Yet, it’s fair to ask: can a hummingbird be kept as a pet? Well, we set out to find out everything you need to know as far as the pet hummingbird goes. Let’s carry on to our findings.

The Hummingbird
The Hummingbird

What is a hummingbird?

Hummingbirds are a small group of bird species that make up the family Trochilidae. They are defined by a small body, the majority measuring not more than 5 inches long from head to tail. The tiniest existing species (bee hummingbird) weighs in at about 2 grams while the largest (giant hummingbird) is 9 inches long and weighs a reasonable 18 – 24 grams.

The minuscule birds are nectarivores with a long slender pointed bill that is adapted to reaching into and punching flowers to extract nectar.

The nectar-eating birds are native to the United States and Canada with some species hailing from an Indonesian island called Bali. True to their name, when flying they usually create a humming sound as they flap their wings in a quick motion. Even more, being migratory birds they love to fly over long distances and usually consume a lot of food.

A flying Hummingbird
A flying Hummingbird
  • Feeding and Nutrition

You should have already caught on to the fact that hummingbirds have a sweet tooth for natural nectar from flowers. Even so, they supplement this sugar feed with an occasional small live insect such as gnats and fruit flies. Insects make for the much-needed protein supply.

You will want to note that has the fastest metabolism among animals, only insects have a faster metabolism. Their little bodies lose a lot of heat especially when flying. So, the body produces more heat by digesting more food. And of course, their high-speed flights with the rapid flapping of wings also demand that the birds use more energy. Consequently, they eat quite a lot considering the sizes. And when flying for hours, they will have to burn off their stored fat.

Hummingbirds feeding on nectar
Hummingbirds feeding on nectar
  • Speech & Sound

Calling hummingbirds noisy would be an overstretch. Apart from the soft chirps and gentle chits they love to let out, they can only manage a rather feeble song which males use to attract females.

Different sub-species of hummingbirds are known to produce unique sounds with some having buzzing, trilling, or warbling tones. Some veteran birders are excellent listeners who use the sounds to tell apart different hummingbirds.

  • Health problems

Hummingbirds are fragile, prone to disease attributable to their complex nutritional and physical requirements. Common diseases that attack them include candidiasis, aspergillosis, avian pox virus, salmonellosis, and more. These diseases are often transmitted through shared feeders, or in overcrowded places. Mice and lice can also attack these tiny birds.

Hummingbird eating from a feeder
Hummingbird eating from a feeder
  • Lifespan

Although some hummingbird sub-species like the ruby-throated hummingbird can stick around for up to 5 years, as delicate and fragile as they are most hummingbirds hardly survive past their second year.

  • Hummingbird migration

While hummingbird species exist in hundreds, only a couple of dozens of species are migratory. These migratory species will move between their breeding grounds and wintering grounds at different seasons of the year.

Most hummingbird species fly to Mexico and Central America to spend their winters. The birds will migrate over spring and fly from their winter homes to the breeding grounds back in the USA and Canada.

In contrast to most other migratory birds, hummingbirds migrate as individual rather than seasonal flocks. They move during the day, flying low in the air, and spotting and feeding on nectar along the way. At night, they will rest in tall trees. They move at superfast speeds of 30 to 45 miles per hour with no slowing down. This species also crisscrosses hundreds of miles just to look from nectar and hunt for insects.

  • Hummingbird nest

Hummingbirds like to build cup-like nests in hidden areas where their young ones will be protected from the scorching sun, rainwater, wind, and predators. The nest is anchored firmly at least 5 feet off the ground usually on shrubs like acacia, ironwood, or gray thorns.

They use spider silk as threads to weave twigs, plant fibers, and dry leaves to build a comfortable nest. The floors are cozy, warm, and spongy thanks to pines resin, mosses, and feathers used.

A bird feeding baby hummingbirds in the nest
A bird feeding baby hummingbirds in the nest

Can you keep a hummingbird as a pet?

Absolutely not. It is illegal to domesticate hummingbirds. The US Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 under CITES Appendix 2 forbids keeping any native migratory bird as a pet. You don’t want to violate this law as it may set you back up to a staggering $200,000. In captivity, hummingbirds are usually kept in zoos.

Besides the legislations, below are more credible reasons why you’d not want to keep a hummingbird.

  • Hummingbirds are very tiny, extremely delicate, and fragile. Any slight mishandling or accident may hurt them or threaten their wellbeing making them difficult to keep.
  • The birds mainly feed on nectar and insects which may be difficult to provide in captivity despite their unlimited abundance in the wild. The general belief that this bird can thrive only on sugar water couldn’t be further from the truth. It is difficult to meet the dietary requirements of this highly demanding bird. Even the zookeepers will need to include some protein supplements.
  • These birds are super-fast and love to fly around all day. They will barely survive in a confined area. If you have to enclose it, you’ll need an unreasonably huge cage, greenhouse, or large aviary to allow it to fly freely.
  • They are very competitive and territorial and will hardly identify with humans no matter how hard you try. They will often try to poke you with sharp needle-like beaks if you move too close. This misbehavior is common during their mating season.

Fret not if you’d love the company of the lovely little avian creatures. The best part is, if you love to feed backyard birds, hummingbirds are worthy visitors. You can buy and install nectar feeders in your backyard, and attract hummingbirds during the summer by feeding them with sweet sugar-water solution. This way, the birds will come close and allow you to enjoy watching them from a closer range.

Alternatively, cultivate a flower garden with their favorite types of nectar flowers such as coneflowers and native vines. These flowers will attract hummingbirds in their quest for nectar.

Hummingbird sitting on a persons finger
Hummingbird sitting on a person finger

Facts about Hummingbirds

  • Australian Honeyeaters are very identical to Hummingbirds but are very different species.
  • The birds can fly in all directions; they can move forward, reverse or upside-down. The only vertebrae that can manage sustained hovering.
  • Every night, hummingbirds switch themselves into a self-induced coma to save energy. Should it be too cold, they may die before waking up. In captivity, the temperature of their habitat is therefore monitored keenly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you tame a hummingbird?

The answer is yes. You can tame a hummingbird but you cannot domesticate it into a pet. Taming involves changing them from a wild, sensitive state to a trained tractable state that is more sensitive to human presence. It is not that hard to give hummingbird taming lessons, especially when feeding it in your backyard. Case in point, using hand feeders to teach them to perch on your hands.

Can a hummingbird hurt you?

Hummingbirds have sharp weapon-like beaks and will not hesitate to strike at you especially birds that have not become accepting of the presence of humans.

How often should hummingbird food be changed?

Overstayed sugar water forms a thick residue over time that would discourage any Hummingbird from visiting your feeders. Charge the food at least thrice every week. Make sure you wash the feeder before adding a fresh mix.

Where can I buy hummingbirds?

Only government-certified and permitted avian breeders are allowed to breed hummingbirds. However, it’s difficult to buy the birds since the breeders can only sell the birds they produce to zoos.

Are the Pennington and perky-pet hummingbird nectar safe?

Although there has been little solid proof, the red dye coloring from hummingbird nectar food manufactured by Pennington and perky-pet is said to be harmful to a hummingbird.


The Hummingbird
The Hummingbird

Read also about A Nanday Conure as a Pet: The Ultimate Guide

Image sources: pixabay , unsplash

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