To you, a hummingbird may seem like a prized work of art; but to some animals, it’s just a sweet little treat. Observations from scientists and birders indicate that its enemies come in many forms, from snakes in Central Mexico that sneak up on unsuspecting hummers, to preying mantises that seize them at nectar feeders. Here are four other surprising hummingbird epicures.
For years there were stories being passed around about jumbo dragonflies, like dragonhunters, picking off hummingbirds. Many people didn’t believe the tales because there wasn’t any photographic evidence. But that all changed this past September when birder Joseph Kennedy snapped a picture of a common green darner eating a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The photo shows the dragonfly munching away on a dead hummingbird it had pinned to a picnic table in Port Arthur, Texas. The darner is about the same size as the bird—both range from seven to nine centimeters in length—so it must have been quite a fight. Some still doubt that the dragonfly delivered the final blow to kill the hummer, but it’s a compelling photo. See it for yourself . . . if you dare.
Several sources, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, state that small predatory birds like Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins, Mississippi Kites, and Loggerhead Shrikes can target hummers. It makes sense, since these speedsters are built to catch zippy winged things (creatures that a much slower Bald Eagle wouldn’t even bother to chase after).
Meanwhile, in the deserts of the southwest, Greater Roadrunners will sometimes stake out a feeder and lay in wait for a hummingbird. It’s not an easy thing to watch: Roadrunners generally snatch up their prey, beat it against a rock or the ground, and then swallow it. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino film, minus all the f-bombs. For evidence of this gruesome behavior, check out these photos or this video.
For years I worked at a wild bird food store where several customers shared stories about frogs jumping out of ponds to grab hummingbirds. One client even told me that she once went after a frog and pried a Ruby-throated Hummingbird from its maw. Sometimes the amphibians will make their way up to nectar feeders to catch unsuspecting hummers. There are numerous videos and photos of them preying on small birds, so it’s not a stretch to believe that one would go for an even smaller hummingbird to deliver the frog kiss of death.
These large, colorful spiders weave tortuous webs that act as nets for flying insects. Hummingbirds steal silk from spider webs for their own nests, so they could get ensnared while they’re out on supply runs. In some cases it appears that spiders knowingly place their sticky nets in the path of feeders; at least, that’s what a couple from Carterville, Illinois, assumed when they found a hummingbird tangled in a web in their garden. Don’t worry, they rescued that bird—but not all hummingbirds are so lucky.
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Does this mean you should banish every possible hummingbird predator from your yard? Not at all. These creatures are doing exactly what they need to survive. Besides, hummingbirds eat baby spiders, so what goes around comes around.