How to Stop Aggressive Hummingbirds

Don’t be surprised if a customer asks your help dealing with a bully. No, not the ones found in a school yard, but those found in the back yard.

What’s even more surprising is that these bullies emerge from one of the most elegant birds found in North America – hummingbirds! Yes, it’s true, many hummingbird species will become hyper territorial and attempt to drive out competitors. Despite their small size, hummingbirds have proven to be surprisingly aggressive at times. While this behavior may seem entertaining at first, it can make feeding these birds a challenge for your customers.

Luckily, there are several ways to minimize this aggressive behavior at hummingbird feeders.

Why do Hummingbirds Fight?

First, it’s important to understand exactly why our fierce little hummingbird friends become aggressive. As with many creatures in the animal kingdom, it comes down to defending territory – namely feeding territory or breeding territory. When a hummingbird feels that others are encroaching on a space it has claimed, it will react aggressively.

Some hummingbird species have a stronger reputation of aggression than others. In particular, people often recognize the Rufous Hummingbird for its temper. Territorial behavior at feeders is usually stronger in male hummingbirds than in females.

So how can your customers recognize this behavior? Territorial aggression presents itself in a number of different ways:

  • Aggressive noises – A territorial hummer usually starts by making warning sounds, such as loud, fast chirping and buzzing. This alerts a new hummingbird that the territory is already taken.
  • Body Language – By changing posture, a hummer can make itself look larger and more threatening to an unwelcome invader. For example, Rufous hummers flare their brightly colored gorget. Others may raise feathers, flare their tails, or spread their wings. All of these threat displays are meant to show off their size.
  • Dives – This is a common behavior at feeders. An aggressive hummer will hover above intruders then dive straight at it, whether it’s another hummingbird or not. The dive is also paired with a loud chirp sound to warn the visitor.
  • Chases – If an intruder doesn’t leave after the other warnings, a territorial hummer may attempt to chase it off. They may charge in the direction of the new hummingbird and attempt to chase it off to another part of the property and away from the feeder.
  • Fighting – While this is by far the most aggressive and violent option, it is a common behavior. However, it is typically the last choice if none of the other warnings have been heeded. An aggressive hummer will use their bill and talons to attack the invader. This can result in serious injury or even death for the hummingbird that doesn’t opt to leave.

Some of these actions, such as aggressive sounds and body language, are merely warnings, while others, such as fighting, are downright violent. Typically, hummingbirds start with the least aggressive behavior and escalates it from there if the “invader” doesn’t leave. Although each behavior may be different, they are all an attempt to ward off unwanted visitors.

How to Stop Territorial Behavior

An old rule of thumb when it came to addressing bully hummingbirds was to separate the feeders from each other. However, by placing feeders in separate areas, the bird enthusiast may be encouraging more bullies to claim the territory. The real answer to hummingbird harmony is to add more hummingbird feeders and place them in clusters.

By creating more feeding zones, some of which will be out of sight of the others, a dominant hummingbird cannot defend every feeder. Additionally, the fighting and feeding sounds that hummingbirds make will attract more hummingbirds to a yard.

Long-time hummingbird bander and one of Alabama’s foremost bird experts, Bob Sargent, suggests to start increasing the numbers of hummingbird feeders around July 4th. This is when nesting is ending and the first southbound migrants are arriving in large numbers.

If one hummingbird is the primary bully, it’s also a good idea to locate its favorite hiding spot. Bully hummingbirds usually maintain a good vantage point to watch and defend their territory. Try removing the perch or pruning the branch that it typically uses. This will help to prevent it from chasing away other hummingbirds.

Additional Hummingbird Advice

Don’t forget that by having multiple feeders, your customers must be more diligent about regular cleaning to ward off disease and prohibit nectar from spoiling. Sargent also suggests that it is not necessary to completely fill the feeders. When feeders go empty, it’s a telltale sign that larger numbers of hummers are feeding. Continue to increase the amount of nectar with each refill until it goes empty on a daily basis. After that, add more feeders and repeat the process.

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