Do Fighting Hummingbirds Ever Hurt Each Other?

You've probably seen aggressive hummingbirds fighting over feeders and flowers. Do these tiny birds ever injure themselves in battle?

Fighting Hummingbirds Show Aggressive Behavior

276494975 1 Gordon Merkel Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Gordon Merkel
Ruby-throated hummingbirds in an aerial battle

Seemingly delicate, hummingbirds fighting over territory sometimes results in serious injuries.

“It’s very normal behavior because they’re fighting over food sources,” explained Lisa Meyers Swanson, an avid hummingbird photographer founder of The Hummingbird Whisperer, a social media page for hummingbird enthusiasts. “But they can kill each other.”

While frequent skirmishes are typical, there are some species, such as the rufous and ruby-throated hummingbirds, that are well-known for their aggressive nature. They will even take on larger birds, such as blue jays, to defend their territories.

fighting hummingbirdsCourtesy Julie Aquilino
Two juvenile hummingbirds defend their position in a magnolia tree

This behavior is most pronounced throughout the breeding season when the males vie for females and are defending their feeding territory. Hummingbirds exhibit multiple warning cues ranging from sharp chirps, males flaring the feathers around their necks, or hovering in front of the opponent before a close dive at the intruder.

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How to Handle Hummingbird Injuries

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Hummingbirds fight for space at a feeder

For the most part, there’s no reason for concern. “If you just see them pecking back and forth, let them be,” recommended Swanson. “You don’t really need to interfere.”

But sometimes the tussles go too far. “I have dealt with injured birds,” said Swanson. “The best thing to do is take them to a licensed rehab facility.”

Jody Kieran of Fallen Feathers, a certified rehabilitation facility in Peoria, Arizona, is all too familiar with hummingbirds fighting and noted, “If you can catch a hummingbird, normally it needs help.”

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A male Calliope flaring his gorget at another hummingbird

Native birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Act. It’s usually not a problem to interact with injured birds to provide assistance. However, it’s illegal to keep a hummingbird and try to nurse it back to health. Kieran recommended a few steps to take while connecting with a local rescue organization or wildlife rehabilitator.

“You want to get them warm,” explained Kieran, “If (the hummingbird) is colder than your hand, you want to warm it up.” She said to place the bird in a shoe box or similar small container with a towel inside to keep it stable. And be sure the bird stays dry.

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How to Stop Hummingbirds From Fighting

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Offer multiple food sources to reduce hummingbird battles

Because bird enthusiasts would rather watch hummingbirds than rush them to get help, there are few steps we can take to minimize conflict. Swanson recommended planting flowers hummingbirds favor in order to spread out the food sources. “They love bee balms and penstemon flowers,” she said, along with a wide-variety of tubular flowers such as salvias, delphiniums and fuchsias.

Grow these potted flowers and plants that attract hummingbirds.

If increasing the garden space isn’t an option, adding additional feeders often helps reduce hummingbirds fighting, particularly if they’re spaced far enough apart and tucked out of sight of the others.

Psst—never add these foods to your hummingbird mixture.

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Hummingbirds argue over a favorite perch.

To handle persistent a persistent bully, consider putting multiple feeders in a group. The thought is that one rough character can’t fend off all of the birds. If this doesn’t alleviate the issue, pinpoint the perch of the aggressive bird and place a feeder nearby. The hope is that he’ll focus on that one feeder while leaving the others alone. You can also prune and remove the bird’s favorite perch to encourage him to leave the area.

Extremely quick and sometimes more aggressive than we’d like, hummingbirds naturally battle for territory, food and resources. But we can do our part to keep them safe.

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do hummingbirds mate for life, Female and Male Ruby-throated HummingbirdsDennis Govoni/Getty Images

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Amy Grisak
Working for a decade as a sound recordist on natural history programs for National Geographic Television gave freelance writer and author Amy Grisak a deep appreciation for the bird sounds heard throughout the season. Combining this work with decades of gardening experience, which is another one of her favorite writing topics, birds are part of nearly everything she does. Whether she is working in her backyard or hiking the trails of her Montana home, she loves sharing her birding experience with readers.