Despite their small stature, hummingbirds are territorial birds, especially when protecting food sources and their nests.
While this aggression is primarily reserved for other birds, humans may sometimes become the target of a bird’s aggressive behaviors.
Why Hummingbirds May Be Threatened by Humans
Typically, if you walk up to a feeder or garden and spook a hummingbird, it will fly away and avoid any conflict with a human. It is only under rare circumstances that hummingbirds will become territorial toward a human.
Most territorial behavior amongst birds coincides with food sources. A large patch of abundant flowers or a hummingbird feeder can provide one bird with important energy, and another animal encroaching on that food supply can lead to hummingbird aggression.
Female hummingbirds may also become aggressive if they feel their nest is being threatened.
You may not realize you’re encroaching on a bird nest, but an aggressive hummer is usually a good indication that one is nearby. Sometimes, it may be impossible to avoid these areas that hummingbirds are territorial over.
For example, they may see our flower gardens or areas near our homes where bird feeders are located as part of their feeding or breeding territory. Hummingbirds are also attracted to certain bright colors, such as red, yellow, and orange.
If you’re wearing colors that they associate with flowers, these curious creatures might be inclined to check it out, even if that isn’t in an aggressive manner.
Fortunately, hummingbird aggression isn’t a threat to humans and would hardly be considered an “attack” in the overwhelming majority of cases.
Hummingbirds Don’t Pose a Threat to Humans and They Don’t Truly Attack
Hummingbirds weigh only a few grams apiece. For reference, a penny weighs just under three grams, while a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummingbird in the eastern United States, has a body mass between two and six grams (0.1-0.2 ounces).
The largest hummingbird in the United States and Canada, the blue-throated mountain gem, measures between 8.1 and 8.6 grams (both birds’ measurements via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology).
Though they have tiny little talons and long, needle-like bills, they aren’t really going to attack a person 1,000 times their size. Any aggression towards humans is more likely to come in the form of aerial displays, buzzing in a human’s face, or a “dive bomb” routine.
Fighting hummingbirds may come into contact with one another in competition for food sources, but the chances that one may actually “attack” a human are very low.
What Should You Do About an Aggressive Hummingbird?
The best thing you can do to a single territorial hummingbird is just ignore it. If you find one being aggressive multiple times in a similar location, try and avoid that spot for a few weeks if possible.
Hummingbird eggs incubate for less than three weeks, and after just a couple of weeks, babies are ready to leave the nest. So, if it’s a territorial female, its babies should be on their way shortly.
Don’t swat at the bird or try to physically scare it away. If you do swat one, you’re likely to cause some serious damage, as hummingbirds are just a couple of inches and grams in size and weight. It’s best to just move along, as the bird is likely to do the same.
If you have a dominant bird at a feeder that scares away other birds, it’s probably best not to get involved in that, either. As wild animals, they’ll work it out for themselves.
What you can do is place out extra hummingbird feeders or plant additional flowers which will help spread out the birds across your yard, allowing more birds to feed in peace.
Hummingbirds May Even Be Friendly Toward Humans
Just as likely as a hummingbird attack – maybe even more likely – is a friendly hummingbird that sees you as a food source.
Hummingbirds may even become comfortable around humans to eat out of your hand if you sit quietly and still for long enough.
Products like this hand hummingbird feeder can help you get up close and personal with your backyard hummers.
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Do Hummingbirds Recognize Humans?
The key to getting a hummingbird to eat out of your hand is making sure it doesn’t see you as a potential threat. We don’t know for sure if hummingbirds can recognize certain people – we can’t ask them, after all – but there is some evidence that some bird species have good memories.
Some studies have shown that birds react differently to people they’ve seen accessing their nests before or based on sound or facial features (for more on that topic, click here).
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does It Mean If a Hummingbird Flies Up to Your Face?
A hummingbird approaching you is likely out of curiosity. If it becomes repeated or the bird begins to “dive bomb” near you from higher in the air, there’s a chance you may be encroaching on what it considers its territory, or it could be a female protecting a nearby nest.
Should You Touch a Hummingbird?
If a hummingbird lands on you in an attempt to get some rest or feed, don’t scare it off, but it’s not OK to grab or trap a hummingbird in most situations.
If you find an injured one, it’s best to find a wildlife rehabilitator and leave it to the professionals. Consider this guide from the Hummingbird Project’s Operation Rubythroat.
Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures that we still don’t know everything about. We don’t know whether they can recognize us or why they act a certain way.
What we do know is that hummingbirds are quite territorial and may sometimes view us as threats.
Fortunately for us humans, there’s not much to worry about, as any aggression displayed is extremely unlikely to actually result in any attack, and hummingbirds don’t have sharp talons or teeth that are likely to cause any damage to you.
So, if you’re fortunate enough to have a yard that plays host to hummingbirds each year, sit back and enjoy.