Hummingbird Torpor Looks Strange but It’s Totally Normal

“A hummingbird was hanging upside down from my feeder by one foot. I approached, but it flew away. How did it go? asks Metropolis Illinois Birds & Blooms reader Margaret Hocker.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: Hummingbirds conserve energy oddly. Hummingbirds can undergo torpor, a deep sleep-like state, at night, during cold weather, or while sitting at a feeder.

As metabolism slows by 95%, heart rate and body temperature plummet. Torpor saves energy and gets them through freezing cold.

“Hummingbirds visit my feeders daily, year-round. Kay Teseniar of Kelso, Washington, questions where they sleep at night in cold weather and how they survive.

Kenn and Kimberly: Hummingbirds sleep on wind-sheltered twigs. Winter torpor is another possibility. Metabolism slows by 95%, heart rate, and body temperature plummet and all physiological functions slow down.  

A female hummingbird landed on the feeder one morning, leaned back, and toppled. She ignored the other birds and flew away after a while. What triggers this behavior? says Chesapeake resident Donna Jenkins.

Kenn, Kimberly: This strange habit may be due to hummingbirds' weak feet and elevated energy levels. Hummingbirds preserve energy using torpor. On cold nights, they become torpid, but sometimes during the day.  

Their feet clamp down when sitting, but on a smooth perch, they may slip and hang upside down. This rarely lasts and the bird usually wakes up unharmed.