Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hummingbird Feeder No More

Today I saw a hummingbird sitting at the feeder. Something didn't seem quite right with it because it was staying still for too long and it kept shaking. A few moments later another hummingbird came up behind it and began to stab this bird in the head over and over until it fell to the ground. It appeared to be the same two birds that were fighting the other day. I was very upset and shocked at seeing this horrible attack and quickly opened the window to shoo the mean attacker away. I went outside to check on the hurt hummingbird and thankfully it was able to fly to a nearby tree, still not moving much and seemed to be a bit dazed, but at least it was alive. I removed my hummingbird feeder and won't use it anymore. It really took away all the pleasure of watching these interesting little birds. It isn't worth it for me to have a feeder if it causes the hummingbirds to be so violent with each other, in fact it feels rather selfish. I always thought that feeding the hummingbirds was a good thing, that it gave them a much needed food source, now after observing this behaviour up close, I feel very different about feeders.


Anonymous said...

That's sad, Robin. I wonder if they ever fight over natural food sources. I've only seen one at a time in my garden, and never any fighting over the Turk's cap or any other plant. But you're right---they do often fight over feeders. I wonder why.

Kylee Baumle said...

Oh, Robin, that's so sad! We've got lots of hummers right now, but I've not seen any of them fighting.

Our neighbor had a hummingbird in their garage this evening and the poor thing was wearing itself out trying to find a way to escape. The garage door was open, as well as a regular door at the side, but the little thing couldn't seem to fly low enough to go out either of them. I suggested she wait until dark then leave all lights off except for the outside ones. I haven't checked with her to see if he made it out or not.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed this fighting going on both at my sister's house and at my own feeders, but I have not seen this kind of bullying. I wonder of it is some kind of territorial thing? I am not sure what I would do if I saw that happening. :(

Carol Michel said...

I think you did the right thing to take down the feeder. Maybe the hummingbirds won't find over the flowers.

Here's to more peaceful days in your garden,

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

m.e. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Robin, the first time you see animals fight and kill each other over territory and food, it's shocking. (Birds fighting each other; squirrel vs. rat - at bird feeders. Dogs vs. dogs; cats vs. cats at bowls of food; dogs vs. people over territory).

When you see them doing mercy killing, it's almost unbelievable. (A sparrow got bopped on the back of the head by a pigeon fighting over spilled grain and it was shreiking and paralyzed. Dozens of birds lined up single file to deliver a strike to help the disabled bird out of its misery)

And when you see them sacrifice for each other, Oh, the wonder. (Sparrows on a power line negotiating which would be the sacrifice for a sparrow hawk perched above, telepathically asking for a food sacrifice).

They are just little people, Robin, nothing more, nothing less.

Anonymous said...

Hummingbirds defend their feeding sources and territories. That's just the way they are. They would do the same thing over flowers.
These are animals with instincts that are hardwired. Feeder, flowers, it's what they do.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I knew hummingbirds were territorial and fought with each other, but I didn't know they would fight to kill. It was truly a shocking thing to witness.

I did a little research on the topic and read that the more hummingbirds there are the less violent they fight just because of the sheer number of competitors at the feeders. That is probably my problem, I've only seen one or two at the feeder at a time, and there is fierce competition for the feeder between these two males.

Thank you all for the responses and the consolation.

Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers said...

If you could sit in my yard for a few minutes this week, you'd know that hummingbirds DO fight over flowers. Our feeder activity dropped drastically week before last even though there are more migrants coming through daily. Nevertheless, I hear shrieking and bickering every time I walk out the door as the birds joust over access to the nectar-rich agaves (century plants) in bloom in the desert beyond our garden. It's their nature to fight, and weak birds make easy targets - feeders have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

The hummers don't seem to fight over my flowers. I have quite a few flowers that they seem to enjoy and I've not seen the aggressive attacks over them. It is interesting to me that a large number of butterflies and bees use the same flowers and they don't bother them, but I did notice if they got close to the feeder the hummingbirds would zip around the feeder to run them off.

So, at this point, I'm not really convinced that hummingbirds fight to kill over flowers. Yes, they fight but I do believe the fighting is different over the feeders, at least that has been my experience.

Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers said...

If hummingbirds aren't fighting over your flowers, maybe you need to plant better flowers. ;) The better the nectar source, the more it's worth fighting over, so I'm guessing that you don't have a really spectacular nectar producer in your garden. (Neither my "tame" flowers nor my feeders can compete with the wild agaves.) And if you don't want them fighting over your feeder, try adding more feeders and moving them further apart, preferably out of sight of one another. This won't keep them from fighting, but it'll give more birds a chance to feed undisturbed.

Using feeders is a wholly personal choice, but I hate to see someone become upset - and upset others - over a misinterpretation. You described hummingbirds "fighting to kill" as "unexpected behavior." Shedding the misconception of hummingbirds as "cute" and "sweet" is a significant step in your growth as a gardener and observer of nature, but IMO you've gone a bit far the opposite direction. Hummingbirds are definitely more Taz than Tinker Bell, but they don't normally fight to the death. As vicious as they are, they just don't have the weapons necessary to kill each other (those wicked-looking bills are actually too fragile and sensitive to be very effective at stabbing). Even the most vicious fight seldom does more than dislodge a few feathers. The photo in that other blog you mentioned in a subsequent post? A molting juvenile male, not a bloody female. I've watched tens of thousands of hummingbirds feeding and fighting and never, ever seen a bloody one.

The fact is that a healthy hummingbird will either defend itself or flee before a more aggressive individual gets the chance to do any significant damage. Only birds weakened by hunger, disease, or injuries (from encounters with cats, windows, cars, and power lines, for example) are vulnerable to potentially fatal attacks from other hummingbirds, but these disadvantaged birds are far more at risk from cats, larger birds, and other predators. A starving, sick, or injured hummingbird is going to gravitate toward the easiest and most reliable energy source - a feeder - which makes one-sided battles such as the one you witnessed more likely to be observed at feeders. But it's not the feeders' fault, and their accessibility may mean the difference between life and death for those disadvantaged birds - a quick energy boost that gives them the strength to fight back or flee.

If feeders made hummingbirds fight to the death, our famous hummingbird feeding stations here in Arizona, some of which have dozens of feeders and host literally thousands of hummingbirds per day in migration, would be littered with corpses. Needless to say, this doesn't happen, despite frequent savage battles, or these feeding stations would have been closed years ago. I hope you'll have a chance to see this phenomenon someday to put your mind at ease.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers, thank you so much for taking the time to explain this to me. I think you are right that the hummingbird was disadvantaged and therefore defenseless and vulnerable to the attack. It was already harmed and couldn't fly away or fight back, which also made it more difficult for me to watch. It wasn't a fair fight.

You are right, I probably don't have the best hummingbird flowers in my garden yet and maybe that is why I haven't seen them fighting over the flowers.

I've read about the hummingbird feeding stations in Arizona and hope one day to experience it firsthand.

Again, thank you for letting me know that the "bloody" hummingbird in the other bloggers post was just a molting male.

I'll reconsider the feeder if it is beneficial, and if I put it up again I'll use more than one.

Terrie's Lil' Piece of Serenity said...

That is so sad!! I love hummingbirds. But, I've never used a feeder. I always have so many flowers I figure they can get the nectar from them. Is it common for them to fight?? I'm going to have to read up on this!!

Anonymous said...

We have hummingbird feeders up and yes they do dart and fly at each other, but I've never seen any "fight to the death" behavior. Why don't you just put up more than one feeder?

Kelly said...

Today by my feeder I was watching a couple of hummingbirds chase each other like usual. This was a little different though. They started to just hover under my porch, which they never do. All of a sudden one bird struck at the other and the other fell to the ground! It was dead! I was so shocked and upset to see this. I have had hummingbird feeders for several years and this is the first time I have seen such a thing.

VMiller said...

Hello Robin, Just witnessed what you did but a little different. We have a feeder on our back porch. On the ground there were two hummers - one was on top of the other. It looked like they were mating at first but the one on top kept stabbing the other one in the neck and head. It was awful. You could hear it crying out. When we thought they were mating I was filming it, but it isn't the right time of year for mating. The agressor flew off and I went onto the back porch. The poor little thing looked up at me and flew to a nearby window ledge of a neighbor. And wouldn't you know it the bully started after it. When it saw me it flew away. I don't know what happened to the hurt hummer, it must have flown away. Not sure if it will die or not. I know in the animal world it will be fight or die, but I don't want to see it on my back porch.... I know how you feel.

Oh - by the way, having more than one feeder doesn't do the trick as was recommended - we had several and after mating season is over there is always a bully that will drive them all away along with your pleasure of watching them. Our feeders on the front were taken down and now the one on the back porch will be. I think we will only hang them during mating season and the rest of the time they can use our flowers. I know what Bisbee Border said and it's great and helped me somewhat myself, but I still don't want to see the finality of a poor vulnerable hummer on my back porch again. Take care and have a great Christmas.

Cat said...

I know many years have gone by since this post was active, but I found it by doing some research about a problem we have. There is a male hummingbird ( think it is a ruby-throated one) that attacks ALL the others at our feeders on our deck. I was able to rescue one female and she is now with a hummingbird specialist at a wildlife rehabilitation organization, as she has an injured wing. I have seen this "killer" hummer attack and successfully kill three other hummers. They are not mating and the aggressive one attacks both males and females. There are three feeders, two on one side of the house and one on the other. We were thinking we should take them down, but two new hummers showed up and so far everyone is getting along. (We only had four birds at a time, even though a couple of years ago we had more than 30.) So, it might be rare, but this one male definitely IS attacking to kill. Sorry no video or pics. I can't take videos and only have a Canon DSLR that takes time to set up. No "smart" phone -- I hate phones!