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Why Do Hummingbirds Fight?
We’ve all seen these adorable little birds buzzing around, drinking from feeders and flowers, swooping over to check on us, perching delicately in a tree… and attacking each other with a vengeance.
Yes, hummingbirds tend to fight – a lot!
Why DO hummingbirds fight so much? To understand their reasons, it helps to know a little bit about them.
A Fierce Territoriality
The main reason why hummingbirds fight is because they’re deeply, violently territorial. It’s rare, but if they feel the situation demands it, they will fight to the death.
It stands to reason – hummingbirds are tiny birds with big food needs, and they need to refill regularly from the flowers and feeders in the area. If it’s a bad year for flowers, a hummingbird may go hungry, which slows it down and makes it more susceptible to predators.
Most flowers only produce a small amount of nectar per day, and the feeder may or may not be kept up, so hummingbirds work hard to make sure their roughly quarter acre of space is defended.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds, the ones we most commonly see here in the northeast, are considered one of the most aggressively territorial hummingbirds of all.
Hummingbirds are not social creatures, and they tend not to migrate in large groups. They lead solitary lives – and they’d like it to stay that way, thank you very much!
Like most birds, males will fight with each other, especially during mating season when they compete for the female’s attention. But unlike some other species, the males have no part in caring for the young. In fact, if a male is encroaching on the nesting area of a female, she’ll chase him away! That’s because his bright colors may attract predators who could eat the eggs or nestlings.
While it’s generally thought that males fight more than females, an afternoon watching the feeder will probably show you that males fight males, females fight females, and males and females will fight each other, all with great and often equal intensity. If there’s an intruder, the hummingbird will fight.
This extends even to other hummingbird and bird species. The Rufous hummingbird will battle other humming species that come around, and hummingbirds have been known to chase away much larger birds, like blue jays.
Interestingly, when autumn is imminent, you may notice the hummingbirds fighting less. They grudgingly share food sources in fall since they are all leaving their territories to fly south for the winter. Sometimes they have their own young sharing the feeder after a summer of growth.
How Hummingbirds Fight
A hummingbird fight begins when one bird visits a territory another hummingbird has “claimed.” The male or female who has claimed the area will usually begin by singing a faster, louder song to alert the visitor that they’ve overstepped the boundary. They may also puff their feathers, flare out a tail, or open their wings to appear larger than they really are.
Other behaviors include:
Diving – Sometimes you’ll look out the window and see a hummingbird zooming up and down in the same area, flying up to a hundred feet into the air and hurtling back down just as quickly. This is a common behavior when two hummingbirds are fighting, but, confusingly enough, males often do the same thing during courtship.
Chasing – The resident hummingbird will often try to chase the other hummingbird away, swooping toward it and chasing it as far from the feeder as possible.
Fighting – When all else fails, and two hummingbirds want the same food/territory, they will battle it out by pecking and clawing each other in midair. While it’s almost always resolved without incident, occasionally an unlucky contender will be severely wounded or killed.
How to Keep Hummingbirds from Fighting Over Feeders
Now that you know why and how your hummingbirds fight, here are a few ways to keep your hummings from fighting as much.
#1: Offer Multiple Feeding Spots Around Your Property
One of the easiest ways to keep hummingbirds from attacking each other is to add additional flowers and feeders around your home. For more protection, place the food sources far away, or at least out of sight, from each other, like on opposite ends of a porch or deck.
A hummingbird relies on its keen sense of sight to watch for intruders, so if a feeder is out of sight, it’s out of mind. A feeder set will help you get started.
#2: Offer a Cluster of Many Feeders/Flowers in One Location
You can also pack many feeder sets and flowers into one area. Not only will the hummingbirds view the area as being plentiful, lessening the need for fighting, they’ll also have a much harder time defending all the feeders. Even the most aggressive hummingbird can only defend a single feeding station at once, so the others will have a chance.
Here is a great list of flowers hummingbirds love to add to your feeding cluster.
#3: Use a Large-Flowered Feeder
You may also want to try a large-flowered feeder to keep the hummingbirds from attacking each other. A single-serve large flower can hide a feeding hummingbird from others and lessens the fighting that a multi-port feeder can sometimes cause. For added benefit, use a combination of several single-port flower feeders spaced either far apart or bunched together, like what’s explained in tips 1 and 2. (Find out how to clean your feeder.)
#4: Remove the Bully’s Branch
If you have one or two hummings who like to terrorize the rest a little more than they should, watch to see where they hang out. In general, the big cheese of the area has a particular branch from which he observes his kingdom. If you remove this branch or rest area, he will have to find a new place, and it may not offer as many surveillance opportunities.
#5: Try a Homemade Blinder
One clever hummingbird enthusiast fashioned a “blinder” out of a storage lid, so that hummings can’t see the birds at neighboring feeders and flowers. (It doubles as a great way to use up those lids that always seem to mysteriously lose their totes!)
Enjoy Your Hummingbirds!
It can be hard watching your hums go into battle, but by following one or more of the previous suggestions you may be able to avoid having them resort to violence.
And if the fighting doesn’t bother you… don’t worry about it! Fighting is their natural way of life, and rarely results in serious injury. You might even find it amusing watching them duck, dodge, dip, and dive their way to victory.
While you’re at it, here’s a few more tips for feeding hummingbirds!