With their delicate wings and tiny stature, it may seem like no one could ever wish a hummingbird harm. But in the animal kingdom, hummingbirds are often a target of predation.
Warning—if the thought of the sweet hummingbirds buzzing around your feeder becoming some animal’s afternoon snack makes your stomach turn, this article might not be your cup of tea.
The truth is, nature can be gnarly, and hummingbirds aren’t immune to this bird-eat-bird world.
Most of the offending predators are exactly what you would expect—larger predatory birds. Because hummingbirds are so fast, their hunters must be too. Sharp-shinned hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins, Mississippi Kites, and Loggerhead Shrikes are fast enough to nab one of these tiny beauties.
And cats, of course, are another source of terror for these birds. Feral cats and outdoor cats that are allowed to roam freely cause the death of many birds, including hummers.
But other hummingbird predators are more surprising—not to mention—significantly smaller.
These deadly insects are meat eaters, and don’t stop with eating other bugs. Praying Mantises all over the world eat small birds, according to a study by the University of Basel. Hummingbirds are the most common bird consumed by these insects.
Mantises are often attracted to feeders in the hopes of ensnaring the bees or wasps that hover by the feeder. However, these insects will occasionally capture and kill a hummingbird.
It’s pretty rare that a mantis will succeed in this endeavor—hummingbirds are as large as a mantis and eight times as large as its typical prey. But if you see one hanging out at your feeder, it may be worth it to gently move it to another location.
There has yet to be any photographic evidence of a frog capturing a hummingbird, but plenty of anecdotal evidence exists. Frogs have been caught on camera eating other small birds, and it’s possible they would also jump out of the water at an unsuspecting hummingbird. Especially if they suspected the bird was, in fact, an insect. Unfortunately for both bird and beast, the likely result is probably death for both.
Because hummingbirds weight less than a nickel, they are light enough to get trapped in a spider’s web. Hummingbirds often raid spider webs for their own dinners, and even use silk from their webs to build their nests. Occasionally, however, the hummingbird will become tangled in the web.
While spiders aren’t typically expecting hummingbirds to stop by for dinner, they aren’t likely to pass up a free meal. Larger spiders, like orb-weavers, will cocoon and eat the hummingbird.
See also: Fantastic Hummingbird Facts
Bees and Wasps
Hummingbirds eat much more than just sugar water—they eat plenty of insects too. And sometimes, the predator and prey end up in a gridlock.
There have been occasional documentations of hummingbirds impaling bees and wasps on their beaks. In the end, both the bee and the hummer starve to death.
While this deadlock is extremely rare, most bird enthusiasts would prefer to keep bees and wasps away from their hummingbird feeders. Hanging fake wasps’ nests nearby can help deter real wasps from coming too close lest they invade other wasps’ territories. Placing nectar guards over the feeder holes can also help keep bees away, while allowing hummingbirds to still drink.
Ultimately, the larger threats to hummingbirds include human activities like habitat loss and pesticide use. It’s much more rare that an animal smaller than a hummingbird will decide to take on a one of these speedy flyers. But when they do, it is certainly impressive.
So if you ever see a frog eyeing a hummingbird, be sure get out your camera.