|A praying mantis killed an Allen's hummingbird at a feeder. Photo by Kris Okamoto|
Despite their speed and flight maneuverability, hummingbirds can still fall victim to predators.
These tiny birds are most vulnerable when nesting, feeding and when they are in a state of torpor, a type of hibernation used to lower their metabolism at night. Owls and other nocturnal creatures, including raccoons and rats can be a threat during this time.
Domestic and feral cats present a serious problem for all birds, including hummingbirds. American kestrels, crows, scrub jays and other large birds are also known to attack weak or vulnerable hummingbirds. And other savvy predators such as the praying mantis lie in ambush to stalk their next meal in flowerbeds or at feeders.
When Kris Okamoto, of San Juan Capistrano, noticed a praying mantis on her hummingbird feeder that hangs from a branch in her California pepper tree, she didn’t recognize it as an immediate threat.
“I’ve had them around the feeder before,” Okamoto said. “I had no idea it was going to catch anything.”
So she was shocked to see a dead Allen’s hummingbird in the grasp of the large insect. All she could do was watch as the mantis dined on the beautiful bird.
“It was too late to do anything about it, the bird was already dead,” she said.
After the praying mantis released the hummingbird, she used a stick to remove the large insect and place on a tree away from the feeder. As a nurse, she had a scientific curiosity to examine the bird.
“The mantis apparently killed the bird by puncturing the brain,” she said. “And it had eaten the entire skull cavity.”
The praying mantis is so named for its prominent bent forelegs, which it holds in a prayer-like position. Typically green or brown, they are well camouflaged in trees and among garden plants. They use their front legs, which are equipped with sharp spines, to snare their prey and hold it in place. Lightening fast reflexes enable them to catch prey that might fly within their reach. Moths, butterflies crickets, grasshoppers, bees and aphids are a typical meal for a praying mantis, though larger ones have been known to catch lizards, frogs and even small birds.
“It’s part of nature,” Okamoto said. “They kill out of survival. But if I see another praying mantis on my feeder, I’m going to take it down.”