The Dark Side of Hummingbirds

by Ernie on April 22, 2013

The dark side of hummingbirds

The dark side of hummingbirds

Since hummingbird migrations season is almost here and soon Oregon will be full of the little fliers (not just the Anna’s hummingbirds, which grace us with their presence through the winter), I was recently looking into what hummingbirds are called throughout the world. I noticed that in certain Spanish regions, chupaflor is the common name. This reminded me of the mythical creature chupacabra, of course, which means goat sucker. I bet you can guess what chupaflor translates to.

This got me thinking about whether or not hummingbirds might be as menacing as the chupacabra. Are these beautiful creatures actually sucking the life out of helpless flowers?

Simple science says no. Like bees, while hummingbirds feed off the nectar of flowers, they are pollinating them. Hummingbirds visit hundreds of flowers a day in order to satisfy their fast metabolisms. This makes them very effective at spreading pollen amongst a variety of flowers over great distances.

But now my curiosity was piqued. Hummingbirds are so popular in North America. So many people have hummingbird feeders; the sight of the furious flyers is a treat for many. Is it possible they have a hidden dark side?

Hummingbirds are known to be extremely territorial and aggressive. They are not particularly shy, and have been known to “yell” at slackers who fail to fill their feeders. There are very few cases of hummingbirds attacking humans though, and they can’t do much harm unless they aim for the eyes or other particularly vulnerable areas.

But we’re huge in comparison to hummingbirds. Maybe they’re like cats: vicious creatures that kill weaker animals for fun. Alas (and fortunately), no. Though hummingbirds are very loud in protecting their territory, the violent display rarely leads to physical harm. Though armed with a sharp beak, it would take an impossible amount of force to pierce the skin of a fellow hummingbird. Most other birds are bigger than them, so they offer no tangible threat.

It seems that my mission to paint the hummingbird as a villain has failed. I can’t say I’m disappointed though. I have several hummingbird feeders and quite enjoy watching them flit about. I’d hate to start to fear them.

In the research of this piece I came across an account of a supposed hummingbird attack. A person was lounging under a tree when a hummingbird spotted them and began flying around their head. Then the bird quickly rose high up in the air and dove, swooping right towards the person’s face and the away.

This is very similar to many hummingbird mating rituals. It is possible that there was an oppositely-gendered bird nearby. Indeed most injuries to hummingbirds by hummingbirds happen in mating ritual mishaps. Their very quick flying during this dance can be fatal if collision occurs.

This “attack” could have very well been a sign of aggression though. Maybe the human was too close to a nest. Maybe the hummingbird just didn’t like them where they were. But this display of aggression was not an attack. If anything it was a warning.

Despite my initial goals, I have failed to find evidence suggesting that chupaflors are as harmful and frightening as their name-cousin the chupacabra. Glad to know those flowers are safe.

Related: Science of Spring Hummingbird Migration

This post was written by Ernie

Ernie Allison loves nature. More specifically, he loves birds and wants to teach others how to appreciate them, too. When he's not sharing his stories with others, he's watching his bird feeder and trying to get decent pictures of the quick critters.

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Amanda August 25, 2016 at 8:53 am

Cute article. My son and I saw a couple of hummingbirds actively flying around each other (perhaps a mating ritual) while watering our flowers, and as they were visiting the plants they began to dive bomb us! Their interest in us was quite short lived but entertaining, and needless to say we went on to water a different part of the yard lol.

Kathy March 8, 2017 at 4:44 am

Hummingbirds do attack I was the chosen one and thought my brother and his wife were going to wet themselves laughing so hard. They not only did it once but 3 times in the same day in different areas of the back yard. Lol

Ms.Kay May 15, 2017 at 9:25 pm

Hard to believe my 78 yr old mom was part of a mating ritual. We were near our pool when mom was attached by a hummingbird. (Two birds were doing their fly dance). She was wearing hot red lipstick. 2 days later she looks like someone sucker- punched her.

David Carvell August 10, 2017 at 9:25 pm

Have you seen hummingbirds bump bellys? I’ve only seen it once. They take turns arcing through the air and bumping their opponent’s belly. Visually, it is similar to watching the clackers executives have on their desks. Every once in a while, they tumble to the ground and do some scrapping, biting each others’ legs.

Justin September 1, 2017 at 7:16 am

David ~ No I haven’t seen that. Really cool! We don’t have our feeders out now (realized it a little late). Next summer/spring we will definitely have some feeders out.

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