Hummingbird hawkmoth by ComputerHotline

Each year during the summer months, we get dozens of reports of hummingbirds on the loose in the British countryside. But hummingbirds are only native to the Americas, so how can this be?

The answer lies in an unassuming moth – the hummingbird hawkmoth - which looks uncannily like a miniature hummingbird.

Like hummingbirds they feed on nectar from flowers, but they are much smaller, with a wingspan of just 5 cm. They are also unlikely to win a beauty competition if competing against a hummingbird, as they lack the characteristically vibrant colours of their namesakes.

Small but perfectly formed

Nevertheless, these tiny creatures are mesmerising as they dance and flit between blooms, poking their proboscis into flowers to drink the energy-rich nectar.

Their wings beat at an incredible 70 - 80 beats per second, which allows them to hover in the same way real hummingbirds do. But all this activity takes a lot of energy, so they have to spend the majority of their time collecting the nectar they need to power their flight (they will even continue to feed whilst mating!).  

'Butterfly of the night'

Although the French word for moth is the beautifully descriptive 'papillon de nuit' or 'butterfly of the night', this is a bit of a misnomer for the hummingbird hawkmoth, as it is a day-flying moth, making it easy to spot when you're out and about.

Hummingbird hawkmoth by belgianchocolateDespite their size, and correspondingly tiny brain, hummingbird hawkmoths also possess an amazing ability to remember their favourite flowers, and will often return to them at the same time each day. So if you spot one flitting around your flowerbed, or poking its proboscis into your patio plants, the chances are you’ll see it again!

The warmer climate in the UK is attracting larger numbers of the these moths, which migrate from North Africa and southern Europe in early summer, so you stand a very good chance of catching a glimpse of one.

If you do, you can help Butterfly Conservation keep track of how hummingbird hawkmoths are doing in the UK by adding your sightings to their interactive map. And we'd love to hear your stories too!