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Why Can't Hummingbirds Play Nice?

Excerpted from : Why are hummingbirds such jerks?

If one hummingbird is at the feeder and a second comes along, a fight breaks out. One dive-bombs the other, driving it off.

According to Greig who runs the Cornell Lab’s Project FeederWatch, he actually calls it aggression. For their body size, hands down, hummingbirds are the most aggressive birds. They’re more aggressive than blue jays and crows, she said.

  Why Are Hummingbirds Aggressive?

Greig said there’s a reason they won’t back down. Hummingbirds are accustomed to feeding at patches of flowers, where each blossom contains just a teensy-tiny amount of life-giving nectar. They have to keep visiting these over and over again. What they’ve evolved to do is defend these flower patches, these territories in which they have food resources.

Their personalities are all about defense. That’s why they’re such jerks at feeders. It really is their nature.

To a hummingbird, a nectar feeder is “like a humongous, never-ending flower. But they don’t know it’s never-ending, which is why they drive off rivals. When a resource is limited, you protect it at all costs.

  It's All About Territory

Greig said I’ve seen ruby-throated hummingbirds of both sexes drive each other away from our feeder. Around breeding time, males can be especially aggressive. Males will maintain a little territory. There are two benefits to having a territory - protecting your food and protecting your mate. A male hummingbird does not want his mate to be exposed to other male hummingbirds.”

Read more: Humminbird Mating and Sex

  How Do Hummingbirds Show Aggression?

Sounds

Fighting hummingirds.

Loud, fast-paced chirping, buzzing, or chittering is one way to get an intruder's attention and let them know an area is already claimed. When a resident hummingbird spots an intruder, it may raise the volume or quicken the pace of its songs and calls to advertise and strengthen its territorial claim.

Posture

Threat postures show off a hummingbird's size and strength to discourage unwelcome guests. A male hummingbird may flare his gorget to show its colors more brightly, a sign of his strength and health that could dissuade intruders. Other aggressive postures include flaring the tail, raising feathers on the crown, spreading or raising the wings, and pointing the bill at the intruder like a dagger.

Diving

An angry hummingbird may first hover in front of the intruder—whether it is another hummingbird, another animal, or even a human—and then fly high above them before diving nearly straight down right at the intruder. The base of the dive is usually marked with a sharp chirp sound made from the tail feather position, and that sound acts as another warning to unwelcome guests.

Chase

Chasing away intruders is a common way hummingbirds are territorial and show aggression. A dominant hummingbird may first confront the intruder, often at a feeding area, before charging at them and following them far away from the feeder or flowerbeds. Angry chirps and other sounds often accompany these chases.

Fighting

Fighting is often the last resort for aggression and discouraging intruders, but it happens regularly. Fighting hummingbirds use their needle-like bills and sharp talons as weapons. When the birds connect with an enemy or ram them in flight, they can seriously injure, even kill, other hummingbirds that do not yield to their dominance.

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