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I caught this hummingbird (probably a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris), stealing insects from several spider webs in a clearing filled with native wildflowers. She was unabashed as she boldly zipped right up to each web, as if each were a drive-through window. Still, I don’t really blame her…the girl obviously needs to consume a nutritious diet…it looks like she is molting. After all, hummingbirds cannot live on the sweet nectar of blooms alone. They need protein, and a spider’s web provides easy pickins’.

At first glance, you might think that she is visiting a flower for nectar…not so! If you look closely, you can see that a small, fine spider web is clinging around the flower. There were plenty of other flowers in the clearing, many looking more promising for nectar. No, she was there for the easy insects.

Because this little hummingbird was so active, I managed to get a picture at just about every angle. As I looked through them, I couldn’t help thinking of her as a mini-hovercraft. Fast, precise, start and stop on a dime, no emissions. Where can I get one of those?

She finally landed for a pit-stop. Maybe she was full, maybe she just needed to rest. Either way, the evidence of her spider-web insect-stealing is right on her face. I mean, her beak.


16 Responses to “Hummingbird Hovercraft Steals Insects from Spider’s Web”

  • Great natural history lesson, Amber, and nicely coupled with beautiful images. Most people–at least most that I know of–don’t realize hummingbirds eat insects in addition to drinking nectar. That’s why it’s always recommended that feeders be placed near plants that will attract insects.

    On a related note, my parents had to rescue a ruby-throated hummingbird from the web of a yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia). The spider was large enough to subdue and consume the bird, but my parents just couldn’t stand to let that happen.

    • Oh my gosh! I have read that spiders can take hummingbirds, but have never seen it. After hosting several yellow garden spiders last year, I can certainly see how this could happen. I have no idea what I would do in the same situation your parents found themselves in. I hope I won’t have to find out.

  • I only discovered last year that hummingbirds eat insects. I’m trying to remember what show I watched recently that had slow-motion video of the bird actually getting the bug–maybe it was that excellent Discovery Channel series, “Life.” Those little beaks open much wider than I’d realized.

    How exciting that you got pictures! I was standing at my front window, casually looking at a gnat that was stuck on the trailing end of a tattered web, blowing in the breeze, when a hummer darted up and snatched it. Of course, the camera was somewhere else.

  • TGIQ:

    a) Great shots!
    b) Hummers eat BUGS???!!!??? Whaaa???
    c) Wow, cool, neat-o!!!

  • What an amazing behavior to catch in photos! I knew hummingbirds eat the occasional insect but it hadn’t occurred to me that they could snatch them from spiderwebs – how clever!

  • Fantastic photos – wow! Thanks.

  • Kay:

    Really neat photos, Amber! I have watched hummingbirds catch insects (tiny little insects) that have gathered by the porch ceiling after a rain. Once I had to rescue one that had gotten trapped while going after insects–not in a spider web but in a screen door! Its beak was stuck and it couldn’t back out. Your spider web raider is very resourceful!

  • […] camera on a birding trip always proves useful. Amber’s encounter with a hummingbird with its bill probing through a bunch of flowers may well be thought […]

  • I would never have noticed – thanks for pointing!

  • Wow Amber, what a great series! Not only do hummingbirds eat insects, that is the primary food fed to their nestlings. They also build their nests with fresh spider webs so you would think that the females would be very adept at working around those webs. I wonder if Jason’s parents hummingbird was a male or a juvenile?

    Thanks for the glimpse into the lives of these little jewels! You have captured them beautifully.

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