Lethal Enforcers~

Four quarts of nectar were being consumed by The Holler Hummers in 48 hours. But now, each two quart bottle of nectar, has it’s own lethal enforcer, who will attack any hummer who tries to feed. So one hummingbird controls 2 quarts of nectar!
The most lethal enforcer is the guy above. You can see he has a malformed beak that he may have gotten in one of his many battles. He is like a capitalist robber barron, hoarding riches he will never be able to consume.
Here is enforcer number two. Both enforcers have visble differences from the other hummers, the beak malformation in number one, and number two is the only black chinned hummingbird at The Holler.
The other hummers snatch nectar when they can, but most have given up and go feed on the flowers. I think they are the smarter ones. Who wants to waste all this energy fighting?
All the hummers who do attempt the feeders are intensely leery of attack from above.
They are constantly ready to self defend!
I understand that hummingbirds need to feed constantly because of their hyper-drive metabolisms, but I don’t understand how all this relentless attacking is adaptive for them as a species.
They remind me of human governments that hoard resources and launch vicious attacks for control. I wonder why they, and we, can’t all just share and get along?
Cheers to you from The Holler’s sometimes too “human-like” hummers~

285 thoughts on “Lethal Enforcers~

  1. What FABULOUS shots – only yesterday I suggested to Darling Daughter we should be cleaning up our Hummingbird feeders in readiness for hanging but she assured me we had “ages” yet. Looks like we’ll be busy tomorrow! πŸ˜‰

      1. We had two bullies last year who ruled from afar. I so wanted to hit them with a water pistol as up until their arrival we FINALLY had a full feeder then… zippo… all we were left with were the bullies πŸ™

  2. Those are some of the best shots of hummingbirds, ever! Wonderful! And shame on you, little robber barons! I actually always thought they shared better than that.

    1. They have gotten along better until today! I did go out and chase the tyrants away a few times, emboldening the others to challenge them. There are eight feeding peacefully on one feeder now which is some progress. We’ll see if it lasts…..There was just a new research study published that clarified that hummingbirds are one of the few bird species that use their beaks as swords against other birds. It’s a bird slash bird world out here in hollerdom!

  3. Yes, they’re back! We’ve been getting a rare red visitor at our feeders. I believe it’s called the Rufous hummingbird. I need to try to get some pictures of him!

    As for the guy with the malformed beak, I sure hope it wasn’t the result of crashing into any buildings/windows – though I suppose there’s less human development out where you are. I have an academic article that helped me understand why some avian species are more territorial (my parrotlet is like this!) and while others aren’t or, in other words, why natural evolution will favor competition in some species. If you want to see it, let me know and I can provide a link.

    1. Yes, of course I want to see it! Please provide link! The good thing about hummingbirds and their aggression is that they don’t construct weapons! We have a Rufous too. Just one. He is such a pretty color. Would love to see yours too. I’m not sure about the beak. It could be an healed injury, so some other sort of malformation. It isn’t slowing him down that’s for sure. We had a finch here with a seriously deformed beak. I got some pics of it and it turned out to be a bacterial infection.

      1. Here you go Cindy… I’m providing 2 links to the same paper in case one becomes unusable at some point in the future: (1) https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/wilson/v076n02/p0160-p0169.pdf (2) http://politespider.com/papers/general/The%20Evolution%20of%20Diversity%20in%20Avian%20Territorial%20Systems.pdf

        I’ve undertaken this research because I noticed a difference between lovebirds and parrotlets… the word “share” is particularly not in the Pacific Parrotlet’s (my current parrot) vocabulary and they are noted for forming smaller flocks than more social species. Also, when I give her something (food, a treat, etc.) she won’t allow me to touch it again. My lovebird, from awhile back, was wayyy more gentle, not as possessive, and actually gave ME stuff! Since this is nature, there’s still variation such that there are gentle parrotlets and aggressive lovebirds for sure, however trends in competitive behavior make sense when you consider how ecological niches make one way of being more advantageous than another for survival.

        According to a parrotlet expert I encountered, the dense South American rain forests fostered more competition and was generally more hostile for small birds (spiders are as big as they are) such as parrotlets, so it justifies their behavior because individuals have to be at their strongest to survive (unlike hummingbirds, no sex difference in behavior here!) rather than everyone sharing and being in a physically weaker state. Contrast this with the spacious savannas of Africa that lovebirds come from (and I hear that they flourish in the dry climate in Arizona too!).

        So the way to tone down the competitive drive is to provide more space to territorial individuals since it’ll be harder for them (and not worth the energy used to do so) to patrol a wide expanse than a small one. Parrot owners (and I practice this with my parrotlet) are told to have several “homes” for them strewn about the house and to take them to different parts of the house throughout the day so that they won’t feel like they only have a small space that they must do their utmost to defend.

        With hummingbirds, the more feeders and more physical separation between feeders you can provide, the less aggression and fighting there will be. To some degree, they’ll just be who they were compelled to be due to their long evolutionary history under particular circumstances, but learning why my parrotlet is the way she is really helped me compassionately accept the total package when I realized I couldn’t train her out of it.

        Sorry for nerding out here, but I figured you’ll read through things at your own convenience! πŸ™‚

        1. Fascinating Lynn. Please nerd out more often. As a fellow nerd, I fully appreciate it and am most interested in everything you had to say here. Nerding right back at you, I just read the results of a four year study in Costa Rica that found that hummingbirds are one of the only bird species that use their beaks as spears to puncture the necks of rivals. The males do this during breeding. I wonder if this heightened aggression I am seeing now is mating related. I have never seen it to this degree before though. I will take your advice and separate the feeders geographically. That makes perfect sense. Thank you Lynne. This was informative, interesting and helpful! <3
          PS- Your parrotlet is one lucky birdie!

          1. Ouch πŸ™ Yes, I imagine that is mating related. I haven’t seen that level of aggression here either. The males in our area just bump each other. Since that’s Costa Rica then I imagine that the competitive pressures that ensured certain types of parrotlets survived may also be at play for South American hummingbirds. Then, there’s also the fact that hummingbirds don’t typically form long-term dyadic parenting partnerships like parrots typically do, so male hummingbirds will be fighting for every female they can get. Thanks for the information and for being a fellow nerd! <3

            Yes, I imagine not everyone out there would understand where her aggression comes from if they had her under their care. πŸ˜›

  4. I didn’t know hummingbirds do that… really surprised. Stunning photos of these beautiful hummingbirds, Cindy!! Beautiful details, they are really tiny though.

  5. Cindy, your photos leave me breathless! πŸ˜‰ I don’t use hummingbird feeders for a couple of reasons, one you mention – I can’t stand to listen to their constant bickering! I am lazy about filling and more importantly, cleaning, the feeders, and lastly, worrying about bees or hornets. I just plant lots of flowers they love and it works like a dream. πŸ˜‰

    1. This is the first time this has happened. The two guys at this writing are each in control of a feeder. I’ve been feeding the hummers for seven years without a problem, except for the bees once, which I saw the hummingbirds just work around. I will watch, but I am going to guess that a counter assault will be occurring soon! I do boil the feeders before each filling. We have a bazillion flowers, so I know they are not dependent on the feeder. They certainly hold my interest!!! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

  6. Cindy, I have experienced the same thing at my feeder. This winter one very fat hummingbird just parked himself on the feeder and let no other bird eat. So I got another feeder and put in a different location. It was so funny to watch. He found a place in the middle and started controlling both feeders at once. Thought this was happening, because it was winter here in Washington, but now I hear from you, that they do this all the time. Thank you for sharing! Hugs! Veraiconica

    1. Oh my gosh! That is amazing. I wonder why it never happened here until now. There has been bickering sure, but not total domination like now! They are little Napoleans!! πŸ˜‰

  7. These are awesome hummingbird shots, Cindy! And yes, they are vicious defenders. I love to watch them dive bomb other hummers when they’re defending they’re food. I plant Agastache in our back berm and when it is blooming in August, they’re amazing to watch!

    1. They are fascinating to watch aren’t they! I am happy to report, that after shooing off the tyrants, we have eight birds peacefully feeding on one feeder! The other feeder is still under the control of tyrant #1! πŸ˜‰

  8. Good evening Cindy – Your photos are amazingly beautiful and relating the actions of the hummingbirds to human behavior is brilliant and sadly… so true… Thanks for sharing this with us…
    Hope your Monday morning is most beautiful…

  9. Perfect commentary on humans and hummers, Cindy. I can’t get over four quarts of nectar consumed in just 48 hours. Keeps you busy at the Holler. And those sword fights look pretty rough.Incredible photography.

    1. Awwww, you are very thoughtful Lynne and most appreciated too! These little guys pack quite a punch per gram, especially considering they weigh around 4.5 grams each! πŸ˜‰

    1. They are wild birds, but they are part of our lives. They see me as the epitome of non-threatening. You should have seen me try to chase off the tryants. The other birds were waiting as backups to fly onto the feeders while I ran after the tyrants, repeatedly. The tyrants seemed to view me as a minor annoyance, but I did shake up the feeder monopoly. 1 point to the human! Of course, there is always tomorrow, and somehow I doubt my victory will last! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

      1. One point to the humans πŸ™‚
        Yes, yes, by all means enjoy your small victory as I think your last sentence is quite accurate when it comes to birds ~

  10. Greedy little things. I purposefully space three feeders well apart so they can’t possibly control them all. Great shots! Battle scars and all.

  11. Fascinating. Who would ever believe that birds would fight for their drink. πŸ™‚ I guess not even the birds are immune to fighting for what they want to gain control. Much like you said of governments. πŸ™‚

  12. Mean Hummers! They do need to share!M I love your post and perfect analogy of our government! I hope you had a wonderful Easter! Hugz Lisa and Bear

  13. Isn’t it ridiculous? Them and the politicians. We had an enforcer that hid in the corner of our balcony when we lived in AZ seemingly sleeping, but no! He chased all others hummers off then went back to his perch. We called him the nectar police.

  14. I finally saw some hummers on a documentary recently and saw how small they are and heard the hum. So beautiful and I hope I experience them some time xx Rowena

    1. Oh I hope you do too! The hum is so loud for a creature that weighs 4.5 or so grams. They also click repeatedly and quite loudly when they are angry! So much fun to watch them~

      1. Since I’ve been blogging, my wish list of places and things to visit has expanded expediently. I also want to see the migration of the monarch butterflies.

      2. Yes! That is a wonderful thing to see. They do come here and should be here soon. Bucket Lists expanding is a very good thing! It is your hopes and dreams for the future~ <3

  15. Gorgeous photos. It is sad that we have enough resources to feed every person on the planet and yet so many die every day.I don’t have nectar feeders so my hummers have to live off the flowers. They love bee balm so I have it planted lots of different places. I’d be curious to put a feeder up and see if the hummers around here would become aggressive and territorial. Peace.

    1. Yes, it is sad how poorly we humans manage to care for each other and of course we have the resources to so much more than we do. It is frustrating isn’t it. I truly do not understand why the hummers are getting so aggressive now after seven years of bickering, yes, but also sharing. I wonder if the nearby orchards succombing to the drought is the explanation. They have to compete more intensively for less available nectar. I don’t know……

      1. If resources are becoming scarce that would probably explain the aggression. The feeder nectar is easier to get at and maybe with limited water resources from the drought, they are getting more fluids as well as nutrients. I don’t want to think what our continued climate change is going to do to the ecological imbalance that is already causing stress in so many areas of the world. I’m glad the Holler is an oasis of beauty and mostly peace.

  16. Good thing the others have the flowers. I suppose you would need smaller feeders spread out over a larger area if they had nothing else to eat. Then the mean guys wouldn’t be able to guard all of it.

    1. The hummers are fully used to me. They find me utterly boring. One time recently the feeder was empty, and this hummer buzzed repeatedly inches to my face, and then to the feeder, and back again. Clearly saying to me, “Come on giant, do you job! Fill the feeder….” LOL!

  17. Your photos of them are spectacular, to say the least. The observations are so interesting as well. I never thought of them being so territorial – so unnecessary and the analogy was spot on. Excellent post.

  18. Fantastic pictures! One wouldn’t think any of those beautiful little ones could be so vicious. Truly brings some human behavior to mind as you say.

    1. I think of this all the time when I watch them, all this bickering, infighting, stabbing. The tryants actually formed an allegiance to attack all incomers today, which is new behavior. So much like more problematic humans, who tend to misuse position or authority. I wonder how this is truly adaptive for them, and for us. I suspect it is not for either species. But it is thought provoking. Humans and hummingbirds need to learn how to be kinder. I think that would improve the chances for both species survival.

  19. I suppose any survival drive can itself be driven by a distorted neurotic one. That is, I’m only safe if I control it all. Otherwise, others will do what I would do” . Control freakery. Ho Hum πŸ™‚ Now when I rule the world ~

    Good shots though and a pleasure to see. At least there are only two out of how many ? I wonder if it might be 1-2% ?

  20. First off Cindy these little creatures were captured so perfectly. I’m fascinated by the raging turf battles – ferocious they are.

  21. Oh, we are so much anticipating their return to our home. You are right, and your photos prove it, they are just so beautiful. But they are little warriors. We watch them fight, attack, defend, fly and chase and then come back for another sip of the delicious sweet water. Thank you for your post.

  22. BookOfBokeh

    A friend desperately wants to photograph hummingbirds. I’d show him your blog but in pure misery and shame he would break his camera, rip off his shirt and start wearing ashes. So I think it much, much better that I wait until after he has tried and posted his efforts to show him this post. That will break his heart even more! πŸ™‚

    1. Laughing, so not true! I am certain your friend will surprise you and I would love to see the results. All he needs is a comfortable chair and a little patience and viola!! Hummers are hams. They can’t resist helping you get a good pic! πŸ˜‰

      1. BookOfBokeh

        I’ll tell him. But if he starts getting great shots and gets better than me. IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT!!! πŸ™‚

  23. You capture the beauty of such a mystifying (and quite scary) creature! These are awesome pics! πŸ˜€ I have to tell you on a funny note I am scared of birds lol- don’t know if it’s from all the sea gulls that have done their duty on my head throughout the years- or the bat that flew in my room as a child πŸ˜„ Either way- beautiful post and always enjoy seeing them!

    1. I admire your bravery in sharing your fear. All people have some sort of fear, so no worries. The fact that you enjoy looking at pics of birdies in spite of your unease is a wonderul testament to you! <3 <3

      1. My thing used to be rattlesnakes but my son cured me of this fear. I still am wary of them, but not irrationally scared. Helped me to learn they are more afraid of me than visa versa. Humans are pretty scary, for good reason, to most wild things….. Cheers to you and good luck with the bugs. People call them bugs for a reason I suspect! πŸ˜‰

  24. If hummingbirds, as beauteous as they appear, can’t make a peaceful go, man will never find true peace on earth.
    Interesting lesson from nature!

    1. Well, a significant majority of Holler hummngbirds bicker, but essentially get along, ie., as it approaches nightfall, they will be sitting co-operatively, eight to a feeder, bulking up for the night. It is a small minority of birds that are bullies and extremely aggressive. In this way, I do see a remarkable similarity to humans, in that the majority of humans are co-operative and considerate, yet the minority that are bullying, manipulative or aggressive, ruin things for those who are not. Unless this problematic minority change, there will be no peace for us. I don’t see this happening either. But, still, Power to the Peacemakers! <3

      1. Yes! I grew up back east and wasn’t familiar with hummingbirds. I assumed that they would be shy, but they are so friendly and bold! Love them <3 I also love our cactus wrens and Gambel's quails. They aren't the fanciest birds but the wrens are bold, too, and the quails are charming.

  25. p.s. I showed my family this post and they loved it, too. Birder son thought the beak abnormality may be congenital as physical damage doesn’t usually do that to the beak (from what we can see).

    1. Yes, I tend to agree with your son, either congenital dysmorpholgy or some type of viral/bacterial process. I have seen a finch here with a bulbous growth on his beak which I was able to identify as either an avian virus or bacteria, can’t remember now.

  26. This was so informative, but I have to say it made me sad. I like to think those darling and beautiful hummingbirds know how to take turns and ‘get along nicely.’ Well, they are part of nature, I suppose. Thanks, Cindy for opening my eyes to those ‘tyrants!’

      1. farwest101

        I feed hundreds of hummers a day. The secret is to have multiple feeders of high sugar content, so that stray hummers make repeat visits to battle the enforcers (high sugar content means twice the normal 4:1 water:sugar ratio that is often suggested – I do 2:1 – hummers prefer high sugar content nectar – makes life easier for them and they preferentially visit the highest sugar content food source).

        When there is critical mass of hummers (usually a half dozen or so), the lone “enforcers” give up and there’s peace around the feeders. But every week or so a new hummer will arrive and attempt to defend his feeder(s) for a while, before giving up in frustration in a few hours (hard to drive off hundreds of hummers).

        FWIW, I use over 1100 lbs of sugar a year for my horde o’ hummers and have anywhere from 4-7 30 oz sized feeders, depending on season. I prefer Perky Pet 30oz feeders because I am able to drill 6 more feeder holes (12 per feeder), allowing the hummers to empty each feeder in a day (so the nectar stays fresh – super important for hummers). Also, Perky Pet feeders have optimal feeding position that hummers prefer (many feeders are absolute garbage – yours is a C- variety imo). And when it’s safe from bees/wasps, I remove the bee guards (the yellow flowers), so two hummers can sit wing to wing and share at peak times (sunset is pandemonium). So we’ll have 24 hummers sitting wing to wing around each feeder (literally touching wings) – and dozens attempting to get a drink. If there’s too many waiting, I know to put out another feeder (or two) – typically during the summer months I have 7 feeders up, all refilled (and cleaned!) daily. I feel like a dairy farmer because I feel compelled to keep the little buggers fed 24/7/365.

        To keep it all relatively manageable, I drill more feeding holes and double the sugar content. If I just used the “recommended” 4:1 sugar content nectar and didn’t drill 2x the feeding holes, I’d need 4x more feeders (16-28 feeders!)

    1. I prefer a more ordered, kind evironment, but the tyrants, like human bullies of all shapes, sizes. genders and occupations, often do not listen, so I moved the feeders. Viola. Tyrants are displaced. Now, what shall we do about the human ones?

      1. I have no idea on the human ones, but the best way I figure for the hummers is to put a second feeder just out of site of the first feeder and that gives the less aggressiveone hummers a chance to get at the feeders too. I use to put one on each side of the house so the more aggressive ones could not watch both feeders at the same time.

  27. Wonderful pictures as always Cindy. I never had a lot of hummers visiting, maybe 4 or 5. Even at that, there was always the bossy ones. I hung extra feeders too. It’s a rough road out there at times.

  28. Nice photos and I’m hoping the hummingbirds make it here to Sconnieland soon. Yes, they’re a brutal bunch. But I think that brute is more like a commie commissar preaching the benefits of the simple life to all, and forcing the simple life on all who don’t agree, while living the high life himself.

      1. When I think of Trump, which seldom happens, orange hair mopped the wrong way comes to mind. What a disaster. But every time I think if little bits of nothing fluttering here and flittering there, putting on a great show that all amounts to nothing, Hillary comes to mind. πŸ™‚

      2. Laughing, you crack me up! I was just reading your Viking Long Boats post. I confess to not being a Hillary fan, but then I am not a fan of any potential candidate that has been mentioned so far. Still Hillary just causes my teeth to hurt, kinda like a cavity that isn’t there…….;) πŸ˜‰

  29. I’ve always been fascinated with hummingbirds since I saw my first one as a child. These pictures have shown me more than I could catch in real life. Your photos are amazing and the commentary is informative and entertaining. The analogies you use are apt. πŸ™‚

  30. Never knew this about hummers, Cindy and we have quite a few of them because of the bushes we’ve planted around the house. They are such fun to watch. Fabulous pictures.

  31. I am always impressed with their fierceness and apparent fearlessness in my yard. If I’m standing somewhere they don’t want me to, I get zoomed or they hover right in front of my face. When they chase each other I always call it the hummer battles. Amazing little powerhouses.

    1. Yes, the same happens here, but they seem to hover in my face to say hello, or because they are curious, not to drive me away as I am always in the same places when close to them. I love them too!

  32. Hi Cindy,
    I came over to thank you for visiting my blog Reflections yesterday. When I got here, I found over 500 comments on this post! I’ve never seen even close to that on a post. You must be so proud of the engaged community you’ve built.

    1. Welcome and it is a pleasure to meet you! I don’t feel pride but I do feel grateful because I am connected with all these amazing, talented, creative blogging friends, from all over the world! There is no way I could have found and connected with such remarkable people were it not for blogging. Plus when you see someone’s creative outputs, you see into their heart and mind, so you get to know your blogging friends in a more profound way than you do more casual friends. My blogging friends bring me much happiness and I hope it is reciprocal! Cheers to you Janice and wonderful to meet you~

      1. I will respond to this when I have more time later. Off to a birthday celebration with friends. But thank you so much for this beautiful, amazing comment I feel the same way. Janice

  33. Wonderful post and photos Cindy Dear!Loved your simile … He is like a capitalist robber barron!
    Oftentimes animals societies and their norms seem to have similar charecteristics to ours …
    I was away and I have missed your wonderful posts,I’ll try hard to play catch up.Happy Monday πŸ™‚

    1. Happy Monday to you my friend and yes I like to compare people to animals because of course we are animals and sometimes, unfortunately, our governments and leaders act like them! That probably is quite unfair to the animals!! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

  34. Nailed it on the character assessment! That is one tough looking hombre there with the bent beak. Classic pugilistic profile for the Capo de Tutti Capi, eh?! Oops, I’m waxing macaronic here. But you know what I mean.

    And HOW do you get such spectacularly clear detail in your shots!!!! Simply breathtaking, as always, but all the more astonishing when snagging portraits of these little speed freaks.

    Hope you’re getting some of this miraculous rain over in the Holler, too. We’ve been getting sporadic storm hits for several days, and while it does have its flash-flooding downside I am so glad for our water levels locally. Know you folk out there are in dire need, so I’m sending you good vibes for some all down the left coast.


    1. What a creative and fun comment! Sadly, there is no water in sight here, and of course the wild animals are suffering. The hawks and ravens now are drinking from my hand held hose. It is pretty terrible. Glad that you are getting H2O and thank you for the lovely comment!

  35. Maybe they OD on nectar and are constantly hyper? I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong end of one of those beaks. That said, I would love to ‘meet’ one of these birds, but that’s impossible as I am in the UK and we don’t have them here. Your photos are absolutely stunning, not just in this post but in the very few that I’ve so far had the opportunity to look at. Hope to come back soon and see some more.

    1. Their heartrate can be up to 1,260 beats per minute during the day, but drops to 50-180 at night when they go into torpor, which is like a mini-hibernation state. If they didn’t go into torpor they would starve to death over night due to their hyper-drive metabolism. They do drink a lot of nectar, but they require bugs for protein and die on a diet of only nectar, which happens when they get hurt and people feed them only nectar. Aren’t you glad you dropped by for all this irrelevant information on a bird you’ve never seen? They will be a quiz on Monday. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰
      Thank you for your kind thoughts and for stopping by~

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