Only when we slowed the video way down and then blew it up could we see the ferocity of the encounter: The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovered above its competitor, then slammed bill-first into the female like a tiny gladiator.
The clash sent the two tumbling into the air. (See the video below.) Once again, the alpha male had done his job in the survival-of-the-fittest world of this smallest, most acrobatic of species.
Much of the daily routines of nature are invisible to us. They take place deep in the woods, fields or wetlands, often at speeds that obscure any real details. Even the most avid birders get mere glimpses of how birds interact.
But the spread of hummingbird feeders all across the U.S. each summer doesn’t just help support these birds. In exchange for a supply of hummingbird sugar water, we get a close-up look at the way birds establish territories, settle into pecking orders, help and compete with one another and fight to survive.
We’re reposting this piece on the hummingbird battles after spending the past two weeks in Western Massachusetts where we watched this story play out a summer ago. We’ve been refreshing our most popular stories this year while we work on a book about bird conservation across the hemisphere. (Here’s a link to Simon & Schuster’s summary ahead of the April 2023 publication date.) These hummingbirds are in their final weeks before migration starts toward the end of this month, which makes this a time of plenty of battles as these birds bulk up for their journeys south.