The Social Lives of Hummingbirds

“That guy’s an asshole.”

This statement was uttered, very matter-of-factly, by a neighbor of ours earlier this summer. Adrian was sitting on the old-timer’s porch, shooting the breeze, and remarked on the lovely hummingbirds flitting around the nearby feeder.

That’s when our neighbor pointed to one flash of emerald and ruby speeding by and informed Adrian that this particular hummingbird was “a total asshole.”

Adrian relayed the story to me later that night and we chuckled at what seemed to be an odd comment–a Tourette’s-like outburst directed at a harmless little bird.

But now I get it.

We put up some feeders ourselves this summer, after noticing how frequently the ruby-throated hummingbirds were whizzing by our windows. They’re amazing to watch. Especially when they sit on the feeder, sipping nectar from the fake yellow flowers–it’s almost like voyeurism to see them sitting still. When the sun shines on them they positively shimmer.

But our neighbor was right: some of them are real jerks. They’re territorial. They dive bomb a competitor on the feeder and chase him off, following the intruder around the yard in feats of aerial acrobatics. One guy likes to hide in the big lilac bush by the corner of our house, just out of sight but within a few feet of one of our feeders. He lies in wait for an unsuspecting interloper to approach before zipping out from behind a leaf to see the enemy off.

We have three feeders and each feeder has about 5 different feeding areas and yet they fight constantly! They’re so pretty and delicate; I think that’s what makes it feel surprising. But it also makes watching the tiny warriors much more entertaining. And it reaffirms the credibility of our neighbor, who doesn’t beat around the bush with his observations!

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2 Responses to The Social Lives of Hummingbirds

  1. I swear I once witnessed two hummingbirds off our deck fencing one another with their beaks! I often work outside and they are so chattery. Love your title to this piece; worthy of a longer piece of research/writing, for sure!

    • Thanks Kaitlin. We think the hummingbirds took off this week. We only saw one this weekend, and we were disappointed that they didn’t give us a sign, or at least wave goodbye when they left. Someday when I can get my act together (or have lots more free time to write) I’ll do something bigger than the blog!

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