Hummingbirds always seem to be on the move - buzzing about at such a pace that it can prove difficult to make out this tiny bird’s finer features, such as their feet.
Hummingbirds do, of course, have feet. However, they can be difficult to spot when one is darting back and forth between flowers.
A hummingbird’s feet are small and delicate. In flight, they are held so close to the body that it is difficult to notice them. Their small size also means this bird’s feet are not very strong. Fortunately, hummingbirds themselves are tiny and delicate - they evolved for speed rather than strength.
Small, lightweight limbs allow the hummingbird to be a far more efficient flier. A bulkier body, long legs, and large feet would eliminate many of the characteristics that make this bird unique.
In this article, we will dive more in-depth into why hummingbird feet are so small and what benefits they give this speedy little bird. Read on to discover more!
Hovering hummingbird with visible feet
A hummingbird's feet may not be the bird's strongest asset, but they do serve a purpose. These tiny grippers are similar to the feet of songbirds, just on a much smaller scale. They allow the birds to perch on thin twigs, plant stems, and fence wires. Yes, believe it or not, hummingbirds do sit still now and then.
Close up of a perched Anna's hummingbird
Hummingbirds also use their feet to scratch or preen themselves, which is extremely important for maintaining healthy plumage.
Dirt and oil will build up if the birds do not preen - or clean - their feathers. Plumage will become matted, decreasing the bird's ability to fly.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched in the garden scratching
These tiny but mighty birds also use their feet to fight. Despite how small and delicate they are, hummingbirds are skilled fighters and happen to be extremely territorial. They use their feet and sword-like beaks to fight off other hummingbirds competing for food sources or mates.
A pair of Broad-tailed hummingbirds fighting
Finally, female hummingbirds use their feet when constructing a nest. Hummingbird nests are made out of fine, lightweight materials, thus great strength is not required for carrying and construction.
Nesting materials typically include soft, flexible items such as fine twigs, leaves, other plant matter, moss, and lichen. Spider silk is often used to complete the nest, making it structurally sound.
Hummingbird sat on nest
Hummingbirds cannot walk. Their legs are not long enough or strong enough to support their bodies for walking or even hopping. However, a hummingbird is adept at sideling or shuffling if they need to slide down a twig or plant stem to reach a new flower or better perch.
Lacking the ability to walk is not detrimental to this bird. Hummingbirds have evolved for speed in flight, so strong legs and feet are not a necessity and would actually slow them down. This bird's incredible speed is what gives it the ability to hover (even upside down) and fly backward.
Hovering to forage rather than perching allows the hummingbird to eat more efficiently. They can continue to sip nectar from a flower blowing in the wind without needing to stop and reposition.
As you may already know, nearly continuous feeding throughout the day is vital for these birds to keep up their metabolism and stay alive.
Male Anna's Hummingbird feeding on flowers
Hummingbirds can perch on their tiny, delicate legs. However, perching is generally more of a squatting position than fully standing. As previously discussed, the hummingbird’s legs and feet are small compared to their body size - they do not possess the strength to support the bird's body weight.
Though they may be difficult to see in flight, hummingbirds do, in fact, have legs. They are disproportionately small compared to the hummingbird's body and are often tucked neatly under the bird while it flies.
The size of the hummingbird's legs likely contributed to the birds' placement in the order Apodiformes.
Apodiformes is Latin for footless - this does not literally mean the birds do not have feet. It simply indicates that birds in this order have very small feet and legs that are generally weak, preventing birds from using them for walking.
Great Sapphirewing perched on a branch, Ecuador, South America
Hummingbirds have four toes on each foot. Like other perching birds, three toes are in the front and one is in the back. The back toe is known as the hallux. The hallux assists in balance and allows the bird to grip branches, stems, or wire for perching.
Hummingbirds do not have ankles. They have tiny legs and feet that allow them to grip securely wherever they perch.
Hummingbirds have two very small, delicate legs. Their legs are mainly used for perching, preening, fighting, or nesting, as their small size prevents these birds from using them to walk.
Hummingbirds do not have knees, which contributes to their inability to walk or hop. They are physically unable to bend their legs.
When in flight, it is pretty hard to spot Hummingbirds' feet - White-bellied Woodstar Hummingbird
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.