Hummingbird Behavior and Aggression

How to Tame Angry Hummingbird Behavior

Green and white hummingbird sounding aggression on plant stem

The Spruce / jskbirds

Even small birds can have bad tempers, as any backyard birder who feeds hummingbirds well knows. These tiny birds often have the biggest attitudes, and their aggression can make for an entertaining show. However, this hummingbird behavior can be a problem for other hummers at backyard feeders when one aggressive bird may chase many others away from the feeding area.

Fun Facts

Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward. They are the smallest migratory birds, weighing about the same as a nickel. They are called hummingbirds for the humming sound made by their wing beats.

Are Hummingbirds Territorial?

Many birds show aggression when they feel their breeding territories or feeding areas violated by intruders. Aggressive behavior is typically strongest in late spring or early summer when the birds claim territory and defend nests. Among North American hummingbirds, the rufous hummingbird has one of the worst tempers, but all hummingbird species may show anger and aggression to varying degrees. Male hummingbirds are often more aggressive at feeders, while females attack near their nests, but this angry bird behavior can be amazing to witness with both genders.

Another reason why hummingbirds fight is when food is scarce. They can’t afford to share flowers when blossoms begin to fade; they have a long way to go after the nectar is gone. The angriest hummingbirds may be aggressive well into the fall as they defend prime feeding spots in preparation for migration.

How Hummingbirds Show Aggression

Hummingbirds may be tiny, but they have a formidable array of weapons and threats at their disposal to discourage unwelcome visitors. When a hummingbird feels threatened, it may show aggression in a variety of ways, including:

Sounds

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.

Dives

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.

A pair of hummingbirds fighting.
Patrick Lhoir / Getty Images

Even the angriest hummingbird usually starts with the least aggressive option to defend its territory. Hummingbird sounds, threat postures, dives, and chases are the most common interactions between competing hummers.

Curbing Hummingbird Aggression

While it can be fascinating to see hummingbirds argue, it can also be disheartening for backyard birders to create a generous hummingbird garden or feeding area only to have it taken over by a single bully bird. If one overly aggressive hummer is making trouble for your other hummingbird visitors, there are ways to minimize their territorial behavior.

Feeder Spacing

Moving hummingbird feeders further apart may reduce aggressive hummingbird behavior. It also gives less aggressive hummingbirds more opportunities to sip from feeders before getting chased away quickly.

Number of Feeders

A dominant bird can not defend multiple feeders as effectively. Adding more hummingbird feeders can reduce aggression in the feeding area. Similarly, adding hummingbird flowers to the landscaping provides more food sources for more birds to enjoy without arguing.

Feeder Placement

Creating multiple hummingbird feeding areas with feeders in different locations can give more birds the opportunity to use them. Ideally, if there are aggressive hummingbirds nearby, other feeding stations should be out of sight of one another. For example, placing one feeder around a corner from another can keep one aggressive bird from dominating both locations.

Perch Positions

An aggressive hummingbird will often stake out his territory from a favorite perch. Watch the angry bird to help you locate that perch and prune the branch or otherwise remove the perch. It forces the bird into a less dominant vantage point.

Removing Causes of Aggression

If a hummingbird seems to be going crazy to defend its area, it can be helpful to discover why the bird is so upset. Different types of intruders, such as a hummingbird predator, another songbird, or a feral cat, may be the cause. Eliminating that stress can help the hummingbird calm down.

Hummingbird aggression can be a problem if you want to feed many hummingbirds at once. However, once you learn why these birds can be aggressive and territorial, you can appreciate the great lengths they go to defend their territory and resources. Hummingbird-savvy birders will easily help mitigate these birds' aggression without losing out on the joy of hummingbird watching.

Hummingbird in garden
Annie Otzen / Getty Images

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