If you’ve ever watched hummingbirds feeding on flowers of hummingbird feeders, you’ve probably seen them chasing each other.
With their incredibly high energy demands, hummingbirds must fight hard for places in which they feed and breed, so chasing is usually simply their way to fend off intruders from their patch.
But what other defensive behaviors do hummingbirds exhibit? And do they ever fight to the death? Let’s find out.
What Are the Main Reasons That Hummingbirds Chase Each Other?
Protecting Their Feeding Territory
If you’ve ever watched a hummingbird in action, you’ll know that they live pretty high-energy lifestyles. Beating their wings at up to 80 times per second exhausts an incredible amount of energy, making hummingbirds the most fuel-hungry birds on the planet!
To maintain this pace of life, hummers need to drink huge amounts of sugar-rich nectar and eat plenty of protein-rich bugs to meet their nutritional needs. If they don’t get enough calories each day, hummers may simply die from starvation.
With such high stakes to feed on nectar-rich flowers, hummingbirds will do whatever it takes to protect their precious flowers from other hummingbirds. Since the advent of hummingbird feeders, they can become protective over manmade nectar, too.
If other hummingbirds approach their favorite flowers or feeders, hummers will often display their territorial warning signs (see description below). If the intruder doesn’t heed the warning, the protector of the territory will often chase them away.
Protecting Their Nesting Territory
Female hummingbirds build the smallest nests of any bird family in the world. In fact, the nests of the smallest species are sometimes no larger than a golf ball!
Hummer nests are usually well hidden in dense bushes or a fork in a tree, so it’s hardly surprising that we don’t often find them. If you have ever come across a hummingbird nest with young chicks inside, you may have discovered that the mother bird can be quite assertive in her attempts to drive you away.
Predatory birds can also sometimes track down a hummingbird’s nest and steal the eggs or young, so it’s not surprising that females possess some strong protective instincts to ward off potential thieves.
If other hummingbirds are nesting too close by, broody females may also chase away their encroaching neighbors that may otherwise compete for precious resources such as nectar.
Males Chasing Males
In the early spring, when most hummingbirds arrive back to their breeding territories after winter, male hummingbirds are looking for females to mate with.
Because competition can be stiff for finding mates, males will sometimes chase each other out of the best territories for attracting females.
A male who can establish a territory by fending off his rivals has more chance of enticing a female to mate with. Battles between males, therefore, can be intense, so it’s not unusual to see high-speed chases between males in the spring as they vie for hierarchy and mating opportunities.
Chasing After a Mate
Even after a male hummingbird has fought off other males to win territory, that doesn’t always guarantee him automatic breeding rights! He still needs to impress females with elaborate courtship rituals which often include impressive dives, color displays, and even a mating dance.
If the female is unimpressed with the male’s charms, she might decide to buzz off to look for another mate somewhere else. In this scenario, the rejected male will sometimes chase after her to claim a second chance at fatherhood.
How Do Hummingbirds Protect Their Territories?
I’ve mentioned already that hummers will sometimes display aggressive behavior to defend their feeding territories or breeding rights. But what does this look like, exactly?
Aggressive Calls and Audible Warnings
When first provoked by another hummingbird, hummers will first make a series of high-pitched, rapid chittering, buzzing calls to warn the intruder to back off.
If you hear hummers making this metallic noise, take a closer look and you’ll probably spot another hummingbird, either of the same type or of another species moving in on their territory.
At the same time or soon after giving their audible alert, hummers will usually display some assertive body language to warn other birds that they’re serious about defending their patch.
This typically consists of fanning their tail feathers, raising the crests, pointing their beaks at their opponent, making aggressive wingbeats, and in the case of males, flaring their vibrant gorgets (colorful throat feathers).
Bright colors in hummingbirds indicate an excellent state of health and strength, so displaying their most dazzling colors is their way of declaring that they’re in full-fighting fitness.
Before any energy is wasted on chasing or fighting, hummers will try to make themselves look as big and intimidating as possible to scare off intruders so that direct combat becomes unnecessary.
If the invading hummingbird is not frightened off by the preliminary warnings, the hummer defending the patch may hover above the rival before diving at them from above at great speed – a formidable weapon against unwelcome incomers.
Scientists studying the diving displays of Anna’s hummingbird recorded a maximum velocity of 90 feet per second – more than 60 mph! Now imagine a sharp bill hitting you at that speed!
A dive attack can often be followed with or replaced by a straightforward direct chase. A hummer defending a patch of flowers or a feeder will often simply charge invading birds and drive them off, far away from their coveted food source.
The angry aggressor will frequently belt out a series of harsh chirps or buzzes as they pursue their opponent, too.
Sometimes an incomer simply won’t yield to the aggressive behavior of the territory’s tenant, and will instead fight back in an attempt to become the dominant hummingbird.
Going into head-to-head combat is a last resort for hummers since they can do each other considerable damage during their duels.
Using their bills and talons, hummers joust one another in spectacular mid-air battles. Sadly, hummingbirds (particularly males) have been known to occasionally kill one another in combat.
When Hummingbirds Are Not Really Chasing Each Other
During their mating ritual, some of the elaborate displays between female and male hummingbirds might confuse onlookers into thinking that they’re chasing or fighting each other.
With their exuberant dives and shuttle displays, males may appear to be harassing the female birds, when in fact they’re simply trying to get the green light with their potential mate!
Are Some Species of Hummingbirds More Aggressive Than Others?
It might be shocking to learn that hummingbirds can occasionally fight to the death. But are all hummers so aggressive?
Of the North American species, rufous hummingbirds and ruby-throated hummingbirds are probably the most aggressive hummingbirds. Ruby-throated males are especially feisty in the spring when males will spar for mating rights.
Rufous hummingbirds will sometimes fight right through the season, even continuing their battles into the fall.
Non-migrating species of hummingbirds like Anna’s hummingbird are known to be more peaceful, but will still sometimes fight with others to defend their favorite flowers such as impatiens.
Do Hummingbirds Fight With Other Species?
Hummingbirds are well-known for fighting and chasing between species. Rufous hummingbirds, for example, are renowned for chasing away less dominant species like Anna’s hummingbirds, Broad-tailed hummingbirds, Calliope hummingbirds, and Black-chinned hummingbirds.
In fact, rufous hummingbirds are so pugnacious, they’ll even sometimes chase off larger birds like blue jays which can threaten their eggs and young!
How Can I Prevent Hummingbirds from Fighting Over Feeders?
Because competition for feeders can be so high, some backyard bird enthusiasts have asked how it’s possible to reduce conflict between hummers over their feeders.
Hanging more feeders, hiding some feeders, and spreading feeders further apart are a few of the best strategies for more harmonious feeding stations.
Also consider planting more flowers like Cardinal flowers, zinnia, fuchsias, and bee balm that hummers love.
Hummingbirds chase each other for several reasons. Whether it’s for food, nesting territories, or a mate to breed with, hummingbirds can be surprisingly boisterous birds when competing for resources with one another.
If you’ve had trouble with your local hummers battling over your hummingbird feeders, you might like to check out our in-depth article for more ideas on how to create more peaceful situations at feeders.