How A Hummingbird Eats Insects
Hummingbirds can’t live on nectar alone. They also need protein.
According to Gregor Yanega of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina:
Hummingbirds need the equivalent of 300 fruit flies a day to survive.
So how can a bird that specializes in feeding on nectar also catch insects?
While other insect-eating birds such as swifts and nighthawks have a cartilaginous hinge near the base of their beaks, hummingbird beaks are solid bone. Yanega said:
They’re also incredibly thin. This makes their lower beaks stiff yet springy, like a diving board.
So their lower beak can flex up to 25 degrees when it opens. This also widens the base to create a larger surface area to catch insects
When maximally bent, the beak snaps shuts. Yanega said:
Their beaks snap shut in less than a hundredth of a second.
That’s fast! According to Matthew Smith from Cornell University:
The extra speed likely leads to greater success in catching insects.
In the high speed video below, you can see how the lower beak bends and then snaps shut.
This phenomenon is known as snap-buckling. Smith said:
The phenomenon is similar to the opening and closing of a snap hair clip.
Snap-buckling has been observed in plants and insects, but this is the first time is it has been observed in vertebrates.