Yes, hummingbirds do sleep! At night, hummingbirds slow down their metabolic rate, heartbeat, and respiration rate by going into Hummingbird Torpor, a hibernation-like state in which they conserve energy by hanging upside-down on a branch. Hummingbirds survive cold nights in this way.
Torpor has a significant decrease in bodily functions and a significant drop in body temperature. Hummingbirds enter Torpor at night when they can no longer feed, when they must rest from the high energy they expend during the day, and when the temperature outside drops.
Hibernation is different from torpor. Unlike hibernation that can last for months, torpor is a daily or nocturnal process at night.
Most of the time, this happens on cold nights, but sometimes it can also happen during the day. They usually sleep upside down on a familiar branch of a tree or bush that is relatively protected from the elements.
When in torpor, hummingbirds lower their metabolic rate by a great deal, sometimes by as much as 95%. They use about 50% less energy than they do when they are awake.
Hummingbirds have warm blood. Interestingly, hummingbirds have higher body temperatures than humans do. In fact, they need to maintain a temperature between 104 and 108 degrees, whereas humans have 98.6 degrees.
Day Of Hummingbirds
Everything about hummingbirds uses energy, so they need a good, relaxing night’s sleep to recover. During the day, they consume a lot of energy and have to eat several times an hour, so they can’t really sleep.
Hummingbirds are extremely active little birds during the day and spend a lot of their time:
- By flapping their wings rapidly, they create a humming sound for which they are known.
- Hovering during meals, which is most of the day.
During dusk, they begin preparing for their night’s sleep, and they have developed a method that allows them to sleep effectively while using as little energy as possible.
How Hummingbirds Sleep
Hummingbirds may prefer to live in warmer climates, but they can still withstand some cold nights. Since they are so small, they are at risk in the cold, so they have adapted sleeping habits that keep them alive, though some unfortunate birds do succumb to the cold.
As night approaches, they begin preparing themselves about 30 minutes before the light disappears. Since hummers don’t sleep, this process takes time. They go into a state of torpor, which is similar to hibernation. You might even mistake one for dead if you saw one!
The State Of Torpor
In a hummingbird, everything runs at high speed, so when they sleep, everything slows down. Their metabolism would keep working so quickly while they sleep, either using up too much energy, or having to keep waking up throughout the night to eat.
They use up less energy at night when they are in torpor because their metabolism slows down. When they are in torpor:
- Hummingbirds will experience body temperatures so low that they are almost hypothermic.
- They expend a lot of energy just keeping warm, so this state can help them conserve energy.
- They can have a heartbeat of up to 1200 beats per minute when they are awake. As they are in a state of torpor, their heart rate slows right down to just 50 beats per minute and it almost appears as if they have stopped breathing altogether.
- Their metabolism slows down to one-fifteenth of normal, and they are able to save up to 60% of their energy.
They retrace their necks during torpor, and their feathers are fluffed out. Most of the time, these birds sleep on branches or in the nest, and they have even been known to hang upside down. Leave a hummingbird alone if it appears to be hanging or breathing slowly at night. It will be in a state of torpor, getting some rest.
Also, torpor helps them survive colder nights. Despite warm climates, temperatures can drop at night, and by reducing their own body temperature, hummingbirds have evolved a way to survive these temperatures.
It can take them up to an hour for them to wake up. When they start taking in more oxygen, they may start making noises that you might consider snoring during this time.
- Their heart rate increases as they take in more oxygen.
- They will then appear to shiver when they are breathing normally. Getting their blood flowing around their body helps warm them up.
When they are fully awake and warm, the first thing they do is feed to replenish their energy.
Exceptions To This State of Torpor
It goes without saying that there will always be exceptions to all the rules with these little birds.
- When there is lots of unnatural light at night, such as porch lights or garden lights, hummers may feed into the night. Although they enter a state of torpor to keep warm, this can only happen during warmer weather.
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, for example, cross the Mexican Gulf during migration. It takes them about 20 hours to complete the flight and there is nowhere for the hummers to rest. The hummers must fly all at once, which makes sleeping impossible. Fishermen and oilmen have reported seeing hummingbirds flying low over the water at night during the migration. After they reach the other side, they’ll have a rest and a much needed feed.
Where Do The Hummingbirds Sleep?
Hummingbirds prefer to sleep on branches and twigs of trees. In poor weather conditions, they choose a tree that provides them with a bit of shelter from the elements around. Trees with spread-out branches, such as oak or birch, are popular with them. They are kept hidden by their large leaves.
Most birds prefer to rest in enclosed spaces so they can hide from predators. It is likely that hummingbirds need space as they sleep so that they can enter torpor easily. Hence, hummingbirds may also sleep in open spaces, such as on wires or nectar feeders.
So now you know quite a lot about the sleeping patterns of these cute little hummingbirds! The next time you notice them “sleeping”, don’t assume they’re dead!
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