A Hummingbird Catching Insects in the Air

Early this afternoon a Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovered in a shaft of sunlight several feet above the ground, out in the middle of our back yard. A tiny, shimmering haze of green, it moved up, and down, wings whirring, for several moments, now and then making small, quick, darting movements. It looked like a dancing fairy in flight, iridescent and silvery-green. 

I think the hummingbird was probably catching tiny flying insects that we couldn’t see in this column of light, maybe a swarm of gnats or something like that. While hummingbirds are more well known for feeding on nectar, they also often capture insects – including gnats, fruit flies, mosquitoes, small bees and small caterpillars. They glean insects from leaves, pull spiders from webs, and hunt by perching on a tree branch and flying off to capture insects in the air – “hawking” like a flycatcher. 

According to one source I found, some observers even refer to hummingbirds in general as “nectar-powered flycatchers,” suggesting that insects and spiders may be equally or even more important in their diet than nectar. Another source noted there is much more to be learned about the importance of insects in the diet of hummingbirds.  

The behavior we watched was a little different because this hummingbird was not returning to a branch like a flycatcher, it hovered in this one shaft of sunlight out in the middle of the yard for two or three minutes, up and down, and then it flew away, out of the light and toward the shady woods. 

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