Amongst birds, hummingbirds are perhaps one of the most interesting and fascinating species. Not only are they the tiniest of birds, but they showcase many unique features that you do not find in other birds.
Can a hummingbird walk?
No hummingbirds cannot walk. They can do many things, but walking isn’t one of them.
They have tiny disproportionate feet that are best used for perching, shuffling sideways, scratching, fighting, and even constructing a nest. These birds live entirely on their phenomenal aerodynamic abilities.
Why can’t hummingbirds walk?
The most significant reason why hummingbirds cannot walk is the anatomy of their feet. Now, let’s understand this in detail.
Hummingbirds belong to the bird order ‘Apodiformes’, which means ‘footless’ in Latin. Despite this, they do have feet. Each foot has four toes in total, with three in front and one at the back.
The toe at the back of the foot is called hallux and shows similar functionality as the human thumb. Because of it, hummingbirds can easily perch or hang.
Next, their legs are extremely small and weak. Moreover, its proportion is too small in comparison with its body. It also has an asymmetric leg-to-foot length ratio.
Overall, it is inappropriate to support the body weight and does not facilitate the walking of the hummingbirds.
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Another significant reason that makes hummingbirds unable to walk in the absence of knees. It is near impossible for anyone to walk without knees.
To sum things up, the lack of knees, extremely short feet, and disproportionate feet lead to loss of walking abilities in hummingbirds. In extreme situations, if they try walking, they make a terrible case of it.
Uses of Legs and Feet in Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are the acrobats or the fighter planes of the bird’s kingdom. Flight is their strength.
They often tuck their feet within while flying. But hummingbirds make use of their legs for several practical purposes like
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Hummingbirds are busy flyers and often flap their wings up to 70 times per second. Given that, they often perch to recoup their energy. They perch as frequently as every ten minutes.
While perching, they would choose spots like the tip of a branch. It is because of their incredibly tiny size.
They not only look out for male hummingbirds but are also mindful of predators. They prefer spots with less foliage so that they get an uninterrupted view.
Side to side shuffle
Because hummingbirds cannot stroll around on their legs, they compensate for it with the most adorable side-to-side shuffle. You would rarely find a hummingbird static.
While perching is definitely more fun and exciting for hummingbirds, scratching is an essential activity for hummingbirds as it helps maintain their personal hygiene.
Their head is easily infected by mites. If not scratched off, their heads would become bald, and new feathers would take three weeks to grow. This highlights the importance of scratching.
Now, because the hummingbird’s legs lack a knee joint and are too tiny, they cannot make it reach their head.
To overcome the situation, the hummingbird drops its wing forward and brings one of its legs back and over its wing. This shortens the distance for the foot and helps them reach their neck, head, and beak while preening.
While this entire sequence of action is taking place, the opposite leg of the hummingbird helps it balance on a wind buffeting tiny twig.
Post completing the scratching process, the bird reverses its movements, tucks its legs back under its wings, and continues to grip the branch and perch with both feet securely. They repeat this motion several times during the day.
Hummingbirds are voracious eaters. They are constantly feeding on nectar.
Given that, they are highly aggressive and territorial in protecting their nectar and food source. If required, they defend it by fighting using their beaks and even feet.
If a fellow hummingbird tries to snatch the nectar or food source, the former uses both the feet and claws to grab the neck of the second hummingbird and force them away from the food source.
If this does not work, they attack with their beaks and push the other bird away. The sequence of events is so fast that it merely looks like a friendly push.
Hummingbirds can also fight in mid-air while flying. Here, they might use their feet to grab the opponent or use it as a barrier to protect themselves.
Feet is an important tool in the nest-making process of hummingbirds. The female hummingbirds use their feet to compress and configure their nest such that it can accommodate two coffee bean-sized eggs.
Female hummingbirds build the nest, which is a delicate and beautiful architectural masterpiece. The nest is built piece by piece. The nesting material is layered with spider web silk that acts as a glue to bind the nest together.
In between the stages, the feet are used in an up and down ‘hammer’ motion to mold and shape the nest.
Hummingbird Walking: Facts and Myths
Do hummingbirds walk on the ground?
No, hummingbirds use their feet for scratching and perching mainly and also for itching and preening. Instead of walking, they perch on a branch.
Do hummingbirds land on the ground?
Contrary to the belief, hummingbirds can land on the ground. But they do it only occasionally when required. Instead of walking, they hop around. But they would do so only when they are in trouble.
Walking is not a trait of hummingbirds. But they make up for it with their flying capabilities.
They make various other uses of their legs and have evolved as one of the most petite and unique birds of present times.
A prolific pollinator, they occupy an important place in our evolving environment and continue to fascinate us with their aerial acrobat capabilities.