To many, hummingbirds and spiders represent a classic example of beauty and the beast. In spite of that, spiders play a key role in the life of the ruby-throated hummingbird. The thing that bonds these two very different creatures together is the spider web.
Spider webs are extremely strong, sticky, and flexible. Remarkably, based on weight, the strength of the web’s high tinsel strands is equal to steel. Spiders use their amazing webs to capture food.
The ruby-throated hummingbird visits spider webs to steal small insects that are captured by the web’s sticky fibers. In addition, they will also actually prey on small spiders.
When the female rubythroat is building her nest, she plucks bits of the web to construct her nest. In fact, spider webs are one of key materials used in nest construction. The fibers help anchor the nest to the limb on which it is built. They also cement the other construction materials that form the nest. In addition, the stretchy fibers allow the nest to expand. This is extremely important as it helps prevent rapidly growing young hummers from falling out of the nest.
Spider webs also pose a risk to hummingbirds. Each year countless hummingbirds become ensnared when they become entangled in a spider web as they try to glean nesting material or food. In addition, others accidentally fly into a spider web spread across a woodland path or bed of flowers.
When this happens, the likelihood of a hummingbird escaping a spider web is slim. In some cases, when a spider senses a bird is caught in its web it will crawl to the bird and rapidly wrap it up in webbing just as it would a beetle or butterfly.
In other instances, the spider simply allows the bird to struggle until it dies. When this occurs, spiders will often cut an entrapped bird loose from the web and let it fall to the ground.
If an ensnared hummingbird is extremely lucky, somebody will notice the bird and attempt to set it free. In the vast majority of the cases, if the bird is found soon enough, it can be saved.
Should you ever find a hummingbird struggling in a spider web, immediately remove it. Take the bird to a cool, shady location and remove ALL of the fibers adhering to the bird’s body. This process can take several minutes. Whatever you do, do not squeeze the bird as you are working. Simply hold it loosely in one hand and gently peel away the tacky threads using a pair of tweezers.
Once you have finished, hold the bird in your hand, and allow it to drink hummingbird nectar offered in the plastic lid to a soft drink bottle. Dip the bill into the liquid. In most cases, the bird will immediately extend its tongue into the fluid and begin feeding. Never leave the bill in the liquid for any length of time.
Feeding the bird before it is released will enable the hapless bird to regain some of the energy it expended while struggling for its life.
When the hummingbird seems to have regained its strength, place the bird on the palm of your hand. When it is ready to fly, it will suddenly begin rapidly beating its wings and fly away.
If the bird doesn’t immediately respond after you have removed all of the spider webs from its feathers, place it in a brown paper bag and loosely fold the top of the bag. Place the bag in a cool place. Then check on the bird from time to time. Once the hummingbird begins fluttering inside the bag, you know it is ready to be released.
Believe me it is truly rewarding to see a hummingbird you rescued from certain death fly away.
Hummingbird nectar? Who just has that lying around?
I wish you would write about the danger of hummingbirds getting caught in the huge webs spun by Joro spiders. In the late summer those webs are so large that you can see them up in trees and all over power lines from quite a distance away. Many “experts” are saying the Joros are harmless. But when I can’t walk out into my yard with out running into their extremely sticky webs, I’m sure they must be a threat to hummingbirds. I’ve already seen large butterflies caught in the webs.
Iva King, Athens, GA
Thanks for sharing your concern. I will research the potential threat of joro spider webs to hummers.