Hummingbirds are known for their wing humming sound when they’re flapped at top speed, as well as for constantly flying, even while eating. It’s rare to find a hummingbird at rest.
So what happens when they stop flying?
When hummingbirds stop flying, they rest, sometimes entering a state of torpor to recuperate from a long day of flying. When this happens, the hummingbird’s metabolism drops significantly, slowing down the heart rate and decreasing the need for sugar intake until the bird is active again.
When Hummingbirds Stop Flying, They Rest
Hummingbirds are nearly always in flight. However, they do occasionally stop flying, whether it be to rest from an injury or sleep.
When this happens, their heartbeat slows down, and their body temperature decreases.
Do Hummingbirds Die When They Stop Flying?
There is a myth that resting hummingbirds will die from the lack of movement, but this myth is false.
Rather, hummingbirds do well with rest, as it helps them recuperate from any injuries and recover from a day of constant flying.
Resting reduces the hummingbird’s metabolism, but not to the degree that it harms the bird.
Another myth tied to this one is that hummingbirds have no feet and therefore cannot perch, which is false.
Hummingbirds do have feet, but they’re small and are tucked closely towards the body while the hummingbird is in flight.
These feet allow the hummingbird to control themselves while in flight and perch when they’re not.
Indeed, hummingbirds don’t have feet suited to walking. Because of the way their feet are, hummingbirds are unable to walk or hop.
What It Means When a Hummingbird Stops Flying
Sometimes, when a hummingbird stops flying, it means that it’s been injured and is too stunned to keep flying.
Hummingbirds are prone to injury, usually caused by a collision with a hard object or a fight with another hummingbird.
Hummingbirds also stop flying to sleep, perching on tree branches, or staying in a nest throughout each night.
While they’re sleeping, they enter a state of torpor, reducing their metabolism dramatically and dropping their internal body temperature.
If you find a hummingbird perched and breathing slowly at night, the chances are that it’s resting, not injured.
A hummingbird in a state of torpor sits with its feathers fluffed out, and its neck pulled back, prepared to sleep through low temperatures if necessary.
Sometimes, a hummingbird will hang upside down when it’s in this state.
A hummingbird that’s waking up from a state of torpor will appear to snore as its breathing picks up, and it may also make small movements like shivers while it’s bringing warmth back into the body.
This is perfectly normal and healthy and not a sign that you need to intervene.
What To Do if You Find a Hummingbird That Can’t Fly
If you find a hummingbird that’s stopped flying and suspect that it may be injured, check for other signs of injury, like a drooped wing.
A broken wing can be a very serious problem for a hummingbird, as they cannot move very well on the ground with their feet alone.
Getting help as soon as possible is a must.
In most cases, the best thing to do is to call a wildlife rehabilitation center.
After calling a wildlife rehabilitation specialist, there are several things you can do to help an injured hummingbird while you wait for a response.
For example, you can place the bird in a soft, cloth-lined box and feed it nectar.
How To Feed an Injured Hummingbird
Hummingbirds need to eat about every 10-15 minutes, eating about half their body weight every day.
Usually, they drink the nectar of 1,000 to 2,000 flowers every day, in addition to eating insects.
To feed an injured hummingbird, you can either hold a feeder close by where the bird doesn’t need to fly to access it or feed nectar directly with an eyedropper.
While feeding the bird, look for bubbles in the nectar; this signifies that the bird is drinking.
Another option is to present an injured hummingbird with small insects, another favorite food source.
Try feeding the hummingbird small insects like beetles, ants, aphids, and gnats.
Why Do Hummingbirds Stay in Flight While They’re Eating?
Hummingbirds stay in flight throughout most of their meals, a time when most birds choose to rest.
This is because hummingbirds feed on the nectar of flowers, and they need to be able to hover while they drink.
Hummingbirds can do this because of how their wings are shaped and how they flap them.
Where most birds flap their wings up and down, the hummingbird flaps their wings back and forth, like in the following video:
Hummingbird wings create lift when flapped, and by alternating directions when flapping their wings, a hummingbird can balance the forces in the forward and backward directions.
They do this very quickly, so much so that the movement is difficult to see with the human eye. In fact, some hummingbirds flap their wings as fast as 200 times per second.
The hum that their vigorous flapping makes are what gave hummingbirds their name.
Do Hummingbirds Mate in Flight?
Although hummingbirds spend most of their waking hours in flight, it’s a myth that they mate while in flight.
Male hummingbirds perform mating dances in the air to impress the female, but the actual mating process does not take place mid-air. Rather, it takes place while perched.
Do Hummingbirds Fly at Night?
Hummingbirds usually fly during the day and sleep at night, tucking in about half an hour before nightfall.
However, artificial lights sometimes trick hummingbirds into staying awake later, and they have been known to fly late into the night during migrations.
Hummingbirds that migrate over bodies of water must fly through the night to reach the other side, even if they would normally rest or sleep.
Some hummingbirds, like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, even fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico, a trip that takes about 20 hours.
Because they rarely fly at night, hummingbirds don’t have particularly good night vision. However, their vision suffices for long trips across bodies of water.