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Are Hummingbirds Territorial? Why Do They Fight So Much?

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hummingbird on thistle

As small and delicate as they are, hummingbirds can be shockingly aggressive. Usually, this aggression will come out when they are being territorial over a feeder or flower patch (and during mating season). This can lead to fights amongst hummingbirds (though fighting is usually used as a last resort when other aggressive behavior hasn’t worked to get other birds to leave the area).

When you see this happening in your yard, it probably seems like those hummingbirds are playing and chasing each other for fun, but that’s very much not the case. But is there a way you can stop hummingbirds from becoming territorial or attacking one another? Yes! Once you’ve learned to recognize fighting behavior, there are a handful of ways you can help to curb it.

hummingbird divider

Are Hummingbirds Territorial?

Hummingbirds can be incredibly territorial, particularly the males. Because hummingbirds spend so much of their time searching for food to keep up with their high metabolisms, once they’ve found a food source, they get protective of it. These birds aren’t fond of sharing! Their aggressive behavior towards other hummingbirds who come into the area is simply a survival mechanism. If a hummingbird can’t find enough to eat, it won’t get the calories required to flutter its wings so quickly or be able to get away from predators.

green hummingbird feeding on white flower
Image Credit: Piqsels

This territorial behavior applies not only to food but to females. When mating season arrives, a male hummingbird will try to chase away other males who enter his space to cut down on the competition. Females will be welcomed, however.

Are females ever territorial then? Yes! They will be territorial over their nests and eggs mainly, but occasionally over food as well.

Why Do Hummingbirds Fight?

This tendency towards being territorial towards both food and of the opposite sex during mating season may lead to fights amongst the hummingbirds in your yard (though fights are usually the last form of defense). Some types of hummingbirds will be more prone to this behavior than others—take the Rufous hummingbird, for example. Knowing when hummingbirds will arrive in your neck of the woods each year will let you know when to look out for fighting amongst birds.

How Can You Recognize Fighting Behavior?

Hummingbirds usually won’t go straight to fighting when they’re protecting territory. Instead, they have a wide array of behaviors they can use to intimidate other birds before things reach the fighting stage.

  • Noise: The first thing a hummingbird typically tries when they feel encroached upon is warning noises. They will start chirping louder and quicker or buzzing to let a fellow bird know that the spot is already taken.
  • Changes in body language: A hummingbird may also make itself larger to look more threatening. They can do this in several ways, including spreading their wings, raising crown feathers, tail flaring, or even pointing their beaks at an intruder. Male hummingbirds may also flare their gorget.
  • Diving: When you see a hummingbird dive-bombing another from above, it should absolutely be noted as aggressive behavior. A loud chirp of warning will often accompany the end tail of the dive.
  • Chasing: When none of the above work (or if a hummingbird is more aggressive than its counterparts), it will go to chasing away intruding birds. Not only will they charge at the other bird, but they’ll follow it out of the area, complete with warning noises to make sure it doesn’t return.
  • Fighting: Most often (but not always) used as a last-ditch effort to get trespassers to leave, hummingbirds will attack another with their bills and talons, as well as ram others in mid-flight. This behavior can lead not only to severe injuries but also death.
4 hummingbirds eating from feeder
Image Credit: Piqsels

Can You Stop Hummingbirds From Fighting?

While you may not be able to keep hummingbirds from fighting entirely, there are ways you can help lessen territorial and aggressive behaviors in your yard and around your feeders (there’s not much you can do about mating season, though).

  • Add extra feeders: Hummingbirds can only defend a single feeder at a time, so adding more may help reduce territorial issues.
  • Add flowers hummingbirds enjoy: Adding more hummingbird-friendly flowers for them to eat from creates a larger amount of food options for birds.
  • Be careful in how you place feeders: Creating several feeding stations that are set well apart will let less aggressive hummingbirds slip in to eat while more aggressive ones are off defending a different feeder. Ideally, the feeders would be out of sight of one another. This also helps birds feel less crowded.
  • Removing things that cause aggression: If you see a particularly angry hummingbird that seems to be acting a bit wild, it could signify that something larger than other birds in its area is occurring. In fact, it could be that a hummingbird predator is lurking. If you can figure out the outside reason, you can remove it, and the bird will become calmer.

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Hummingbirds are surprisingly territorial and aggressive birds. They need a ton of food to survive, so they won’t back down when they feel another bird is moving into their feeding area. And while they may resort to fighting, that will actually be their last-ditch effort to get rid of an intruder. Instead, they’ll use a variety of ways to tell another bird to back off, such as loud warning noises or dive-bombing them. If you see hummingbirds in your yard or around your feeders that are being overly aggressive, you can try to lessen the problem by adding more feeders and spacing them out. But, overall, there’s only so much you can do before nature takes its course.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.