Bird Watcher's General Store

Hummers Can Reach with Tongues - 06/29/01

Dear Bird Folks,

Even when my hummingbird feeder is almost empty, the birds still come and feed. Are they still getting food or are they being fooled and just sucking air?

- Bill, Eastham

No Bill,

They are not just sucking air. They have not signed up for the new Weight Watcher's "Air Only" Diet. Hummingbirds lap, they don't do any sucking at all. And believe it or not, hummingbirds are indeed getting food out of your feeder.

Hummingbirds have long bills and tongues that can find their way into some hard-to-reach places. Their tongues are not solid like ours, or at least most of us. Hummingbirds' tongues have extra folds which are a bit brushy to make it easier for lapping up nectar. They use their tongues to reach way into flowers (or your neglected feeder) to lick up the last little bit of nectar. A hummingbird's tongue can lap at the rate of 13 times per second, just like my neighbor's golden retriever.

Thanks for the question, Bill, we always like to get questions. However, in this case I would rather have had you use your time to simply go out and fill your feeder. Then you wouldn't have to worry if the hummers are eating air or not.

Artwork by Catherine Clark

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