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Stand too close to a hummingbird feeder and you're likely to face the buzzing wings of a hummingbird defending his food source. While his wild antics in the air seem charmingly aggressive to humans, hummingbird communication includes a combination of aerial displays, physical altercations and vocalizations that authoritatively announce his intention to aggressively defend his territory.
Hummingbirds are known for their visual displays, darting up and down, back and forth, in aerobatic maneuvers designed to either entice females or assert dominance over territory. Courting rituals may look like an aggressive display of U-shaped loops between male and female hummingbirds. At other times, a male defends his territory against all trespassers by dive-bombing humans, larger birds, other hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
Hummingbirds are extremely aggressive when guarding their territory. A male hummer will actually attack another hummingbird, butterflies and bees that intrude upon the area he's claimed, especially if they dare to approach his flowers or hummingbird feeder. He may use his wings, body and beak against a trespassing hummer, beating against the other bird and entangling the other's beak until the two birds reach the ground. While normally neither bird is hurt, occasionally serious injuries or even death may result from a territorial battle.
While most hummingbirds don't sing, the rufous-tailed (Amazilia tzacatl) and Anna's (Calypte anna) hummingbirds produce a sputtering song to mark the males' territorial boundaries. An Amherst College study on Anna's hummingbird territorial songs described the song as several sets of "chi chi chi" followed by "kwee chik chik.'' Interestingly, when the researchers recorded and played the song that marked the male Anna's hummingbird's territory, it attracted more hummingbirds to the site.
Chirping and Chattering
Although hummingbirds don't usually sing, they chirp and chatter throughout the day, warning other hummers away from their territory. While the males are aggressive in defending their food sources, female hummingbirds also known to defend their territories against other hummers. Some hummingbirds, such as the Anna's, ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris), rufous-tailed and bee (Mellisuga helenae) hummingbirds, are also able to produce a loud "chirp" with their tail feathers at the bottom of a display dive.
- Animal Diversity Web: Trochilidae -- Hummingbirds
- The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publications: Understanding Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and Enhancing Their Habitat in Maine
- Hummingbird World: Hummingbird Behavior
- Galveston County Master Gardeners: The Pollinators -- Hummingbirds
- University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine: Territorial Song in The Anna's Hummingbird, Calypte Anna: Costs of Attraction and Benefits of Deterrence
- UC Berkeley News: Anna's Hummingbird Chirps With Its Tail
- NA/AbleStock.com/Getty Images