Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Hummingbirds Fighting Over Feeders

The Aztec God of War, Huitzilopochtli, is often depicted as a Hummingbird.

It is natural for hummingbirds to fight over the hummingbird feeder.

We love to feed hummingbirds! We love to see the glistening metallic colors of the male hummingbirds flashing in the sun. We enjoy how close they get to us and how fearless and active they are.

However, many people are concerned about their aggressive behaviors toward other hummingbirds. 

Why does one hummingbird take over the feeder? Why do they have to fight so much? Do hummingbirds hurt themselves when they fight? Is there anything I can do to stop them from fighting? 

These are the questions this article answers.

Photo of Costa's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

Why do hummingbirds fight over feeders?

Hummingbirds fight over feeders to protect the sweet nectar--an important food source. 

Hummingbirds have high metabolisms and must consume from 3 to 7 calories per day. Many of these calories come from the sugar in nectar.

Flowers are the hummingbirds' natural nectar food source. But flowers don't last long. Hummingbirds are on a constant lookout for new blooming flower patches. When they find a nectar source, they protect it. Feeder wars are a matter of life and death!

Hummingbirds need 1/4-acre territories with insect food, nectar, and water. Males that have the best territories will mate with the most females. The most belligerent and aggressive male is thus the most desirable, from the female's point of view. He will guard the best territory and will sire strong offspring that have a better chance of surviving to adulthood.

No wonder hummingbirds fight over your hummingbird feeder! Hummingbird feeders are a long-lasting and reliable source of nectar that gives the male a better chance of winning the affections of the females.

I've talked as if it is only the male that fights. But this is not true. All hummingbirds have a pecking order, and all will fight one another at the feeder.

There is a time, though, that hummingbirds don't fight at the feeder. It is at dusk. Often several hummingbirds will feed at the feeder relatively peacefully, as they get the last drink of nectar before total darkness.

Photo of Broad-billed Hummingbird at feeder
Broad-billed Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

How do you stop hummingbirds from fighting over feeders?

The one way to stop hummingbirds from fighting over your hummingbird feeder is to hang several hummingbird feeders. The more, the better.

While the bully hummingbird is off chasing one hummingbird, others can sneak in for a drink. Of course, when the most dominant hummingbird is away, the second-most dominant hummingbird is the new boss. So, fighting continues. 

The more hummingbird feeders there are, the less successful fighting. Why? Because if the dominant bird is always chasing others away, he drinks less nectar. A point comes when it is more advantageous to drink and share in peace than it is to fight.

My small 10-ounce feeder will supply the daily calorie needs of about 50 hummingbirds. Or 10 hummingbirds for 5 days before it needs refilled. And that's only if they don't get any nectar from other sources. Thus, it is often better to have several small hummingbird feeders partially filled than fill up one large feeder. 

The goal here is to attract more hummingbirds at one time so one bird doesn't drive off all the others. You get rid of the bully hummingbird by giving him too much competition.

Several hummingbird feeders placed rather closely together seems to work best for stopping hummingbirds from fighting. However, if you are unable to attract large numbers of hummingbirds, then having a lone second hummingbird feeder out-of-sight of the first feeder works, too.

How many hummingbird feeders do you need? I've seen 5 or 6 feeders work well, with 3 grouped together and others spaced out around the yard. Of course, this takes a lot of dedication on your part to keep them all filled and cleaned!

Photo of Anna's Hummingbird on branch
Anna's Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

How do hummingbirds fight over feeders?

The dominant male usually sits on an elevated perch where he can keep an eye on the hummingbird feeder.

When another hummingbird appears at the feeder, male or female, the dominant bird comes flying in with a loud angry wing buzz and chattering vocal calls. This is often enough to make submissive birds flee without anyone getting hurt. The dominant bird chases the other bird, often quite far away!

If the interloper stands his ground, though, the fighting becomes more intense. They may hit, bite, stab, or claw. They may even knock each other to the ground! Usually, one bird surrenders and flies off defeated.

Rarely, evenly matched hummingbirds may be physically injured or die in these fights. But this is highly unusual. You don't get the territory and win the female if you're dead.

Of course, even female hummingbirds fight at the feeder. But their fights with each other aren't usually as much of a battle as two males fighting. They usually don't get hurt. Females quickly give way to the males.

Photo of Rufous Hummingbird at feeder
Rufous Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

What hummingbird fights the most?

In the United States and Canada, the Rufous Hummingbird is the most belligerent and most protective of the hummingbird feeder. They take on all comers.

In the West, Anna's Hummingbirds are resident hummingbirds. So they are at the feeders all year. And they're fairly large. Nevertheless, when the smaller Rufous Hummingbirds arrive in spring, they quickly drive off the Anna's.

Rufous Hummingbirds are fighters!

Looking for a hummingbird feeder? I have personally been enjoying the easy-to-clean More Birds brand hummingbird feeder. There are several sizes. I like the smaller Ruby model (Amazon affiliate link). Thank you for supporting this website with your purchases!

More articles on hummingbirds:

Do you hang hummingbird feeders in sun or shade?

When do you put up hummingbird feeders? When do you take them down?

Why aren't hummingbirds coming to your feeder?

25 Tips on where to hang your hummingbird feeder

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