How to Identify a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Learn how to spot a hummingbird clearwing moth and how to attract these unique pollinators to your garden with nectar plants.

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane! It’s a… moth? The hummingbird clearwing moth has been fooling people for centuries. From a distance, it is often confused with an actual hummingbird. But up close people generally note, “It doesn’t look quite right. Where’s the beak?” Of course, since it’s a moth, it doesn’t have a beak, but instead a proboscis like a butterfly. And that’s usually the quickest way to tell a hummingbird from a hummingbird clearwing moth, along with the feathery antennae on the moth’s head.

Discover 10 interesting facts about hummingbird moths.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth by Jill StaakeCourtesy Jill Staake
Hummingbird clearwing moths are often confused with hummingbirds

To make matters more confusing, this is a day-flying moth, active at the same time and near the same flowers as a hummingbird. They are one of only three creatures that have the ability to hover when they fly (the other two being hummingbirds themselves and some species of bats). As insects, these clearwing moths are much shorter-lived than hummingbirds (a few weeks in general). Instead of hatching from eggs, they grow from caterpillars and pupate in a cocoon.

How to Attract Hummingbird Clearwing Moths

hummingbird clearwing mothCourtesy Don Roos
Hummingbird clearwing moth on liatris

You can attract hummingbird clearwing moths to your yard much as you would attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They seem to be especially fond of coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and bee balm (Monarda) for nectar. Caterpillars host on honeysuckle (Lonicera), viburnum, hawthorn, snowberry, cherry, and plum. Look for these moths during daylight hours and occasionally in the evenings. They can be found throughout the entire eastern U.S. in the summer.

Fun Fact: A hummingbird clearwing moth is said to have been the inspiration for the song “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” by They Might Be Giants. Lyrics include, “It’s messing with the plan, it can’t be believed/ ‘Cause it’s just a hummingbird moth/ Who’s acting like a bird that thinks it’s a bee”.

Next, learn more about sphinx moths.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.