It’s fun to watch hummingbirds gather around your backyard feeder. But you might wonder if you’re really helping out those hummingbirds by giving them sugar water. After all, we humans know that sugar water isn’t very nutritious!
It turns out that it’s just fine to fill hummingbird feeders with sugar water. Aside from a few trace minerals, sugar water is similar to the nectar hummingbirds retrieve from flowers.
Hummingbirds need something close to pure sugar to fuel their flight. That’s because they have an incredibly high metabolism. The heart of a hummingbird in flight beats over 1,200 times per minute. A hummingbird’s wings beat over 70 times a second in normal flight. They fly by rotating the entire wing, which allows them to hover and fly backward.
What’s more, hummingbirds need all those calories to chase after an important source of food – insects – from which they receive protein, vitamins and minerals. About a third of their diet consists of small insects and spiders, which they must sometimes catch in mid-air.
Hummingbirds aren’t always so acrobatically active. To conserve energy, they regularly enter a state called “torpor” – it’s a lot like hibernation. Their body temperature drops, their heartbeat slows and their respiration decreases. They’re likely to become torpid at night, when it is cooler – and return to normal the next morning.