Are Hummingbirds Territorial?

Pet Love


January 4, 2022

Hummingbirds are known for a handful of distinct features that set them apart from other birds. Of course, the size and coloration of the hummingbird is unique, with most other birds not having the same display of iridescent and vivid feathers as the male hummingbirds do.

Hummingbirds are also unique in their ability to fly backward, straight up, and straight down thanks to the motion of their wings. Behaviorally speaking, hummingbirds are also one of the most territorial birds of its size, aggressively defending their land from hummingbirds, other birds, and any intruding animals alike.

Do Hummingbirds Behave Differently Than Other Birds?

When it comes to the behavior of the hummingbird, they have quite a few features that make them different from other birds. For one, hummingbirds are considerably solitary animals, only spending time with another hummingbird for the sole purpose of mating. Much unlike other birds, hummingbirds do not have a flock and when they migrate, they only coincidentally move with other birds, rather than seeking out a migratory group.

Hummingbirds are also very smart, even by bird standards. They have one of the largest brain to body comparisons than any other bird, its intelligence rivalling that of some of the smartest birds around. With that being said, there haven’t been as many studies done on hummingbird intelligence, but it is believed that they have episodic memories. This trait was thought to be only exclusive to humans.

Lastly, one of the most identifiable traits of the hummingbird is its aggression. Hummingbirds have one of the shortest tempers of all birds and will not hesitate to pick a fight with another bird. Hummingbirds have even been known to pick fights with people, and considering the difference in body size, this only shows how ready they are to defend their territory against any threat.

Is it True That Hummingbirds Are More Aggressive Than Other Birds?

It is well-documented that hummingbirds are aggressive, territorial birds. They will pick fights with hummingbirds that are trying to compete for feeders and flowers. They will ward off other birds from their nest locations. They will even try and fight off other animals that the bird feels are a threat to the territory.

While hummingbirds may not be the only bird that displays aggressive behavior so readily, it is one of the smallest birds to act this way. The male hummingbird is often the more aggressive sex, though females will defend their nests with the same voracity that males defend their territories with. If you have feeders in your backyard, it is going to be a natural part of having hummingbirds to hear them fighting.

The good news about this is that even though hummingbirds are aggressive animals, they often do not fight to the point of maiming or killing the other bird. Rather, once one of the hummingbirds has proven its dominance over the other, the defeated bird will have to go find another area to get its food from. This means that you won’t have to worry too much about cleaning up the remains of a territory dispute between hummingbirds.

Signs of Aggression in Hummingbirds

When a hummingbird feels threatened in one way or another, it will begin ramping up displays of aggression to the offending bird. With each level of aggressive behavior, if the problematic bird doesn’t leave, the hummingbird will get more agitated and will escalate the situation to more physically involved behaviors.

Aggression in hummingbirds starts the same way that it does with most animals: vocalizations and posturing. Hummingbirds will let out sounds that resemble buzzing or chittering to tell the intruding bird that the area it is in has already been taken. Male hummingbirds will posture, often flaring its gorget, tail, and crown feathers to make itself look bigger. Some hummingbirds will also point their bills at the intruding bird in the same fashion as one would do with a dagger.

If this does not scare the offending bird away, the hummingbird will escalate into more physical measures. These include diving, chasing, and finally, fighting. Diving starts with the hummingbird hovering in front of the intruder before shooting up into the sky and diving toward the intruder, often transitioning into a chase to hopefully remove the intruding bird from the area. If the other bird does not yield to the chase, a fight will begin until one of the birds has proven its dominance over the other without a doubt.

Are Hummingbirds Territorial Birds?

You may look at the small stature of a hummingbird and, while remembering that some hummingbirds weigh less than a penny, wonder are hummingbirds territorial, thinking that such a small and delicate bird could not possibly hold its ground to defend its territory. Just as hummingbirds are particularly aggressive compared to other birds their size, they are also considerably aggressive birds.

This is seen in both male and female hummingbirds. Male hummingbirds will typically claim territory around feeders and other sources of food while female hummingbirds will claim territory around nests or areas that have good potential for a nest. Despite the fact that their territories are different, the hummingbird will generally mark its own territory and defend it in the same way, regardless of the bird’s sex.

While the exact size and scope of territories can vary depending on the hummingbird species, male hummingbirds have been known to defend territories that sprawl as far as a quarter acre, or 1,000 square meters. Female hummingbirds usually do not defend such large swaths of land, generally preferring to defend about half a mile around the nest.

How Do Hummingbirds Mark Their Territory?

Hummingbirds defend their territories vehemently, so it would make sense for you to want to know the signs of them marking their territory. Whether you want to make sure not to bother the hummingbirds on your property or you simply want to know what the birds in your yard are communicating to other birds, knowing the signs can help you know what is going on in your backyard bird community.

Hummingbirds aren’t known to have specific methods of marking territory the way that other animals do, such as urinating or leaving scratches on trees. Instead, most hummingbirds will prefer to start with the first level of aggressive sounds they would make. These serve as a warning to birds trying to encroach on the hummingbird’s territory as well as telling the intruding bird that if they do not leave, the bird will be attacked.

After this, if the intruding bird challenges the hummingbird’s territory, the aggression will escalate in the same way it would as described above. One thing to note is that because hummingbird feeders are such an indefensible food source for hummingbirds, it has been noted that hummingbirds will often rotate which birds dominate the feeder for the day, with several being the dominant birds at a time.

Do Hummingbirds Attack People?

With as aggressive as hummingbirds are, it would be understandable that you would be worried about a hummingbird attacking you or possibly your children. Hummingbirds have been known to hover in the faces of people before, but this is believed to be attributed to their inquisitive and curious nature. However, if you or a child responds by attacking the hummingbird, the bird may retaliate even if it wasn’t being aggressive in the first place.

Some hummingbirds will come to associate you as the person who provides the food in the feeder. What this means is that when the feeder is empty and you come to refill it, hummingbirds may chirp directly in your face, hovering just inches away from you. This can be thought of as a dog begging you as you open a can of food. It is a harmless display of impatience, albeit annoying.

The Takeaway

When all is said and done, there is no denying the fact that hummingbirds are considerably territorial and aggressive birds. They have short tempers and are ready to defend their territory from even the slightest perceived intrusion from another bird. They have several ways to display their aggression and to thwart off other birds, but in the case that the intruding bird challenges this, hummingbirds are often ready to fight with their claws and their bills to defend their territory.

Keep in mind, though, that hummingbirds have not been known to cause lasting harm to humans, despite this aggressive disposition.