In the Americas, there are over 350 species of hummingbirds. These tiny birds are known for their vibrant colors and their love of nectar. But what else do we know about them? For example, do they eat butterflies?
No. Hummingbirds do not eat butterflies. Though they are very different creatures, hummingbirds and butterflies can coexist peacefully in the same environment. Additionally, they two are beautiful pollinators that help to ensure that plants can reproduce and continue to grow. They both play a big role in the ecosystem.
But, wait, aren’t they fighting for nectar?
Hummingbirds may rarely have a conflict with butterflies!
Check out the video below.
In the above video, it seems like the hummingbird and the butterfly compete for nectar. So, obviously, no matter how peaceful they are, if they have to share the same food, conflicts can happen.
Do hummingbirds and butterflies eat the same thing (other than nectar)? No. The only common food they both prefer is nectar. But, it is the main food of both of them.
However, hummingbirds are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Though they largely depend on nectar, in order to get the required protein and fat, they also eat insects and spiders.
On the other hand, butterflies are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants (but, some like the harvester butterfly, are carnivores). Butterflies are limited only to liquids due to their long proboscis (the long straw-like tongue). And, they mostly drink the sweet nectar of flowers. Other than that they sometimes eat the sap of ripened and rotted fruits.
In addition, hummingbirds are fiercely territorial. They are very much concerned about their food supply. Hence, hummingbirds would challenge any other creatures who consume food in their territories, especially if the food is scarce there. So, hummingbirds would consider butterflies as a threat if both have to compete for nectar. But, those kinds of attacks are extremely rare.
Do hummingbirds and butterflies like the same flowers? Yes. Since both hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to nectar, they like the same flowers that produce more nectar.
Do hummingbirds eat moths?
Moths and butterflies both belong to the Lepidoptera order of insects, which contains about 180,000 species. And, out of that, around 90% of species are moths.
Though butterflies and moths may look similar, they differ in a few key ways. Here’s a quick comparison of the two.
|Larger (in comparison to moths)||Smaller (in comparison)|
|Lean and smooth bodies||Sturdier and have furry bodies|
|Brightly colored wings help them blend in with their surrounding||Drab-colored wings that help them camouflage with tree bark or leaves|
|Fold their wings vertically over their backs||hold their wings horizontally (like a tent)|
|Primarily diurnal (active in the daytime)||Mostly nocturnal (flying at night time)|
|Have club-shaped antenna||Have feather-shaped antenna|
So, moths are generally smaller in size and quite different from butterflies. Also, they are very dense. And, hummingbirds eat insects. So, do hummingbirds eat moths as well?
Yes. Hummingbirds eat moths. When it comes to eating insects, hummingbirds are not much selective. Since moths can be small as a few millimeters, hummingbirds can easily catch and eat them on the fly.
However, moths are active at night, and hummingbirds usually do not feed at night. Hence, moths are not one of the main types of insects that hummingbirds target.
What insects do hummingbirds eat?
In addition to being an agent for the pollination of flowers, hummingbirds help on controlling insect populations in our environment. Though their go-to food is nectar, they feed on insects to get the protein required for the body. Especially when they are feeding chicks.
Some hummingbirds, such as the female ruby-throated hummingbird, may eat up to even two thousand insects per day. But, that number depends on the type of insects and their availability in the hummingbird territories.
Here is the list of insects and other animals that hummingbirds eat.
- Fruit flies
How to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your backyard?
Hummingbirds and butterflies can coexist. What you need to do is create an inviting garden that makes them visit frequently. Here are the things that you need to do and are concerned about when planning your garden.
1 – Make sure your garden has continuous blooms
Since both hummingbirds and butterflies feed on nectar, they attract flowering plants that produce more nectar. Many flowers that hummingbirds are fond of also appeal to butterflies. And, if you prefer them in all seasons, consider planting a mix of flowering plants that blossom in different seasons.
Following are flowers that attract hummingbirds as well as butterflies.
|Spring||Spring into/through summer||Summer||Late summer and into fall|
|Wild columbine||Butterfly weed||Hibiscus||Canna|
|Bleeding heart||Trumpet creeper||Jewel-weed||Dahlia|
|Crested iris||Coral bells||Bee balm||Cardinal flower|
|Virginia bluebells||Trumpet honeysuckle||Sage||Phlox|
|Creeping/moss phlox||Fire/Indian pink||Cup plant||Obedient plant|
When it comes to butterflies, they require two types of plants. Nectar plants for adult butterflies to feed on and host plants for caterpillars to feed and grow.
- Nectar plants: Above mentioned plants are all nectar plants. In general, butterflies prefer native plants more than introduced plants. And, they attract to bright colors. Hence, consider plants that have flowers in colors such as purple, yellow, pink, blue, etc. Most importantly, avoid using pesticides since they can kill butterflies if applies at improper times.
- Host plants: Butterflies lay their eggs on host plants which can feed their caterpillars. Generally, host plants are grown in shady places. So, consider planting these host plants if you like to see more butterflies in your garden. Following are several host plants and types of butterflies they may attract.
|Plant||Butterfly species that they host|
|Tulip tree, wild black cherry, lilac, ash, basswood, willow||Tiger Swallowtail (Eastern)|
|Pussytoe, Ironweed||American Lady|
|Dill, parsley, fennel, carrot||Black Swallowtail|
|Nettle, elm, hops||Eastern Comma|
|Clover (mainly white)||Clouded Sulphur|
|Cherry, serviceberry, cottonwood, aspen, willow, scrub & black oaks||Red-Spotted Purple|
|Native grasses & sedges||Skippers (various)|
In addition, flowers attract other insects to your garden along with butterflies. Those insects attract other birds as well. So, if you maintain your garden properly, it will become a real paradise to be, with many birds and butterflies.
2 – Implement feeders for hummingbirds and butterflies
If you install and maintain your feeders correctly, hummingbirds will come to them more frequently. The following tips will help you to make your feeder setup effective.
- Install several feeders instead of one: Male hummingbirds are highly territorial and do not like to share their feeding grounds. Hence, installing several feeders at a proper distance (10-15 feet apart) may attract more hummers.
- Hang feeders to avoid the direct line of sight of one another: This will help hummingbirds to avoid one another when feeding from them. So, it will help to cut down the territorial nature of males.
- Hand feeders in shady spots: If it exposes to direct sun, content in feeders may spoil very quickly
- If you plan to keep feeders up to winter, maintain them: Have sheltered feeders and keep them outside in day time and take them in during the nighttime to avoid freezing the content.
Hummingbirds and butterflies are both eye-catching creatures that can decorate our gardens. But, just like many other birds, hummingbirds also feed on insects, especially when they are in need of protein. So, do hummingbirds eat butterflies as well?
No. Hummingbirds do not eat butterflies since they mostly catch smaller insects such as ants, gnats, mites, mosquitoes, etc. Though male hummingbirds can be territorial, it is extremely rare they attack butterflies even though they have to compete for the same food (which flower nectar) in their territories.
So, both hummingbirds and butterflies can coexist peacefully in your garden if both have enough nectar supplies.
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