Hummingbird Feet: Can Hummingbirds Walk?

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Hummingbirds are incredible flyers — but what about hummingbird feet? We explore how hummingbirds use their feet and whether they can walk.

ruby throated hummingbirdCourtesy Johnny Bliznak
Hummingbird feet are very small and weak.

When you think about hummingbirds, you probably think about flying. That’s understandable — the buzzy little birds are known for their fast-flapping wings and unusual style of movement. But what about hummingbird feet? How do hummingbirds use their feet, and can they walk? John Shewey, author of The Hummingbird Handbook, helps us break down the mysteries behind hummingbird feet.

Can Hummingbirds Walk?

male anna's hummingbirdCourtesy Jill Tierney
Anna’s hummingbird sitting on a tree branch.

Surprisingly, the answer is “no.” Hummingbirds don’t have the ability to walk like other birds do. Why is that? John explains: “Hummingbird legs and feet are structurally similar to other songbirds but comparatively reduced in size,” he says. He explains that a hummingbird’s incredible flight skills enable it keep pace with a flower blowing in the wind — but from an evolutionary standpoint, that amazing ability came at a cost.

“Weight is the enemy of flight, so hummingbirds evolved relatively small legs and feet to save on weight,” John says. He says the birds’ bodies are put together in a way that “emphasizes extreme flight dynamics that do not require highly developed ‘foot capabilities,’ like those seen in birds that rely on walking or specialized perching. Like woodpeckers, for example.”

Hoping to attract more hummingbirds to your yard? Check out our answers to frequently-asked hummingbird feeding questions.

How Do Hummingbirds Use Their Feet?

hummingbird feetCourtesy April Paul
Hummingbirds use their feet for perching and preening.

With that said, just because hummingbirds don’t walk or hop like other birds doesn’t mean hummingbird feet are useless. John notes that hummingbirds do have some mobility with their feet, and they are adept at “scooching” sideways.

Psst—hummingbirds are all about speed — you’ll be amazed by how rapidly their tiny hearts beat.

“They use their feet to grip tiny perches such as twigs, or even human objects like fence wires and tomato cages,” he says. “The feet also serve the critical purpose of helping the birds preen and clean their feathers. Clean, well-groomed feathers are important for flight as well as insulation and temperature regulation.”

Discover even more jaw-dropping hummingbird facts.

Ask the Experts

hummingbird feetCourtesy Steve Ricketts
A juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird lands on a flower with its feet wide open

“My husband and I saw a hummingbird flying around with a cocoon on its foot. What’s going on? asks Laurie Stuchlik of Milton, Delaware. Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Hummingbirds have relatively small, weak feet, and they don’t intentionally use them to carry anything. But sometimes they get one foot tangled in something, and if it isn’t too heavy, they may fly around that way. The females use their bills to gather pieces of spider web and other soft materials to use in their nests, and they may pull off silky strands from moth cocoons. The bird that you saw might have been doing that when it got one foot tangled in the loose outer covering of the cocoon. Usually such an impediment will fall off before too long.”

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Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in magazine writing from the University of Missouri - Columbia. When she’s not writing and editing, you’ll find her swimming, running, or hiking. She knows blue jays are controversial, but she loves them anyway.