Faithful or a Fling: Do Hummingbirds Mate for Life?
Find out what experts say about the question: Do hummingbirds mate for life? Also learn how male hummingbirds flirt to attract females.
Whether or not you’ve experienced the thrill of getting to see a hummingbird courtship display or hummingbird nest in person, you’ve probably wondered whether hummingbirds, like some other types of birds, mate for life. Let’s find out what the experts say on this matter.
Here’s how to tell male and female hummingbirds apart.
Do Hummingbirds Mate for Life?
Laura Erickson, former science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, points out that some birds, like cardinals, do bond for life. For other birds, the love connection only lasts for a few weeks or months. But hummingbirds do not mate for life—in fact, it’s only minutes!
Both males and females in the hummingbird species found in the U.S. are thought to have multiple mates, according to Erik Johnson, director of Conservation Science for Audubon Delta, National Audubon Society.
How Do Male Hummingbirds Attract Females?
“That may seem like a huge energetic cost to females, which it certainly is,” says Erik. “But males experience a huge cost, too, by investing in the development of their amazing gorget feathers and by offering spectacular display dives and hovers to attract females.” For example, Erik points out that a male Allen’s hummingbird was documented pushing 60 miles per hour during its display dive.
“Males spend a lot of time during the spring and early summer displaying in their territory,” Erik says, “which they defend from other males, in the hopes of attracting a female.” He says male hummingbirds tend to be smaller than females. This possibly makes them more nimble in flight and able to offer the most exciting courting display.
When males aren’t displaying, they’re feeding, preening, and resting. According to Erik, this rigorous need to display regularly may make males less likely to survive as long as a female, due to an increased risk to predation. Psst—here’s the answer to how long hummingbirds live.
Are Young Hummingbirds Flirting or Fighting?
“Were these two juvenile ruby-throated hummingbirds flirting or fighting?” asks Joseph Brown of Christiansburg, Virginia.
Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman weigh in: “That’s a great action shot! Hummingbirds seem to pour a lot of their abundant energy into chasing each other. Sometimes there are practical reasons for their aggression, such as when they’re defending a favorite patch of blooms to protect their nectar supply. But other times they seem to be acting out on their generally spunky nature. Young hummingbirds don’t mate until the year after they hatch. So these juveniles were probably just horsing around, not flirting.”
Next, check out 7 sweet photos that show how birds attract mates.