[CT Birds] Hummer Behavior

james.bair at snet.net james.bair at snet.net
Fri Jul 30 14:13:12 EDT 2010

Dear Tammy,

As others have written, hummingbirds (certainly the Ruby-Throats) are notoriously territorial. Most of us who observe them have similar anecdotes. We see photographs from Alabama or the Southwest of a dozen hummers at a feeder or something, and it looks like they are all humming Kumbyah. But those Alabama photos are normally of starving migrants who have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico, and those Arizona or California photos are often post-breeding dispersal. Even then, the people who observe the feeders note that there is usually some kind of pecking order. A couple of years ago I happened to be birding along the shore in late August or early September when a lot of hummingbirds were migrating. Quite a few passed by in the course of the day, but like Hawks, they were all flying singly. When people see rare hummingbirds--like the Rufous this week in Stamford--they are normally single indivduals. Back a few years ago when two Calliopes showed up in New York City, people noted that they were first-year birds, so they were likely nest mates, or at least had not had any breeding experience so the territoriality had not kicked in yet.

My parents in New Hartford used to put out a hummingbird feeder, and so did their next door neighbors. All summer my parents would have one hummingbird come, usually a female. Their next door neighbors would have a male all summer. They were probably mated, but since the male hummers are not involved in rearing the young, we noted that each one had its own territory. Hummingbirds will chase just about anything that flies out of its immediate territory even hawks and crows.

Having said that, I have noted in my backyard a shaky truce. The alpha female who has successfully chased away another female and a male all summer seems to have had a change. Two weeks ago she was at the feeder when the male came by. She started at him, but he "clicked," and she calmed down and perched on the clothesline next to the feeder. He then proceeded to do a mating "dance" in front of her with the clicks and parabola that you see illustrated in the bird books. Since then I have seen them at least tolerating one another on two occasions, and on one occasion the male chased the female away.Still, it seems like they still have a pretty wide comfort zone as long as they are on territory.

Jim Bair

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