Fight of the Hummingbirds

by John Briggs on July 29, 2011

in Bird Photographs, Birding Videos, Blog

While most of the birds that visit our backyards only defend a breeding territory, Hummingbirds are one of the few birds that will defend a food source. Just about anywhere that a Hummingbird finds food, it will fight to defend it even along its migration route to Central America.

The long drawn-out territorial fights can sometimes lead to injury or death, either from exhaustion or from the fighting techniques used by the aggressor. These delicate little birds will sometimes attack larger birds, such as Cardinals and even Crows.

Bird Photography: Hummingbirds Fighting

Wednesday was a beautiful day featuring bright blue skies and cool temperatures. I  cleaned and refilled our ten Hummingbird nectar feeders and took them outside to hang them back up. Once back inside the house, I watched the Hummers fill themselves with fresh nectar. All seemed to be happy with four female and five male Hummingbirds divvying up the feeders among themselves.

Suddenly, a male came streaking through the air and knocked another male from its perch on one of the feeders. The aggressor then made himself comfortable on the feeder hanger and began to preen. I quickly grabbed my camera and went to my favorite spot for photographing Hummingbirds, our bedroom window.

It wasn’t long and another male came by the feeder and the fight was on! Twirling, chattering and tumbling end-over-end in mid air, the pair fell to the ground. As they lay there in the grass, the male Hummingbirds used their bills just like they were swords. It wasn’t long until the dominant male had the other male flat on the ground, standing on top of it and stomping and clawing at the poor soul.

I couldn’t believe that this was happening within a few feet of where I stood and well within range to get photos of the altercation, and even video footage. I snapped away as if there were no tomorrow, hoping that my camera setting were close enough for at least half decent captures.

There were two separate fights between these two Hummingbirds. The first lasted about 30 seconds, and once the aggressor finished stomping the crap out of the other bird, they both flew away. The second fight lasted much longer. This time, the aggressor stomped and clawed at the other for about a minute and a half. I began to worry as the Hummingbird that was laying flat on its back stopped moving.

I thought about intervening, but just left nature take its course. Finally, the aggressor flew away, but the poor bird laying on the ground looked like it was dead. I slowly walked toward the motionless bird, quietly asking “Are you okay little fella?” When I was about six feet away, I noticed some movement and I stopped and watched the Hummingbird. Suddenly, with a chatter, the bird flew up into a nearby maple tree where it began preening its ruffled feathers.

I’ve watched Hummingbirds fight in mid air and tumble around on the feeders, but I have never witnessed these birds driving each other into the ground. I was completely awe stricken, with emotions ranging from wonder to worry thrown into the mix. I just couldn’t grasp the fact that these little jewels could be so violent.

Enjoy the photos and video from this incredible encounter, which I call the Fight of the Hummingbirds.

The following photos were taken with a Canon 7D and a Canon 400mm f/4 L IS lens. Simply click one of the thumbnails below for a full-sized view, and then use your arrow key to navigate through the rest of the photos. ©2011 John Briggs Photography | All Rights Reserved

The following video shows the aggressive Hummingbird giving the other a good stomping and then both flying away. I have other video clips showing the stomping and clawing in greater detail, which I will post on my Google+ page sometime this weekend.

Dimension: 560×480 | Video bit rate: 1000Kbps | length: 17 seconds
Playback: Click Play Button | Broadband Connection Recommended
Video: Fight of the Hummingbirds | ©2011 John Briggs Photography

Happy birding!

World Bird Wednesday


TexWisGirl July 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm

i am glad the little one was okay. aggressive little buggers! your third shot is especially stunning.
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Dawn Fine July 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Oh my..what a battle…Cool Photos and Video!

Robin Robinson July 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Fabbbbbb series of images, John. Sounds like you could really have used a WOrld Wrestling Federation ring girl in gold lame holding up a round number! I have seen them go at it like this before, esp. at this time of year.
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Cindi July 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm

AMAZING! Didn't know they were that mean! Great photos and video!

corralena July 29, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Wonderful photos and video. They are really aggressive in defending a food source. The Rufous here are fierce.

Nicole July 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm

This is so totally amazing!
I only watched bird violence once with sparrows. Nothing compared to these guys of course.
I understand your mixed emotions.
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@NESASK July 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Wow. You got some incredible photos. What a scene!

vickie July 30, 2011 at 8:49 am

Incredible images and story. Having tried to capture these guys in combat, I’m in awe of your images. They show in even more detail how serious these hummers are when they defend a feeding source. Beautiful detail. I’m so glad the loser survived!

Blair Cessna July 30, 2011 at 8:58 am

You have an knack for greatness. Well done. Very enjoyable pics and vid. Being in the right place at the right time. Awesome captures. Thanks for sharing.

Vincent Mistretta July 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Great images and story. Thanks for sharing.

Paul Wells July 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Amazing stuff, John! Congrats on capturing it all so well!

Grace July 31, 2011 at 8:46 am

I have never seen anything like that with Hummingbird …what an amazing series of photos and video…they aren't as delicate as we believe …I have seen them fight over feeders,but nothing like this !
Thanks for sharing that!!

Larry Jordan August 1, 2011 at 12:05 am

What an incredible scene John! You have done an amazing job capturing the stills and the video. Wow! I have obviously seen aggressive hummers in my time but nothing like this!
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Hilke Breder August 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Great shots and video, John! If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it!

@onejackdaw August 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm

If I hadn't seen your photos and the video I would have had a hard time believing it! Great shots and video, John!

Frank August 2, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Amazing piece of behavoiur .. superbly captured John.
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Boom & Gary August 3, 2011 at 9:13 am

I knew they were aggressive, but not so. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.
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springman August 3, 2011 at 11:08 am

CLICK to enlarge!!!
If I live to be a hundred I don't think I shall ever see the equal of these amazing hummingbird pictures. I too am awestruck with this consumate post. This is a great example of the art of blogging. Powerful images coupeled with a personal, well written story. Sir, you are a master!

Mick August 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Since there are no hummingbirds here in Australia I had no idea they were so aggressive and could fight like this. Great that you were able to document it all.

fjällripan August 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

What a sight! Amazing photos, all of them!
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Anna Fasoli August 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Woah crazy! I've never seen a hummingbird pin another one like that on the ground, just aerial fights…crazy!!!
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Andrew August 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Lovely images of a beautiful little bird…
I have really enjoyed reading and watching this post.

Neil August 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Great photos and video.
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holdingmoments August 4, 2011 at 12:31 am

Amazing captures John.
It's always hard to resist the urge to intervene in something like this.
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Eileen August 4, 2011 at 4:22 am

Wow, that is an amazing sight to see. There were having a real battle there. I am happy both were able to fly away.

pattyler1 August 4, 2011 at 9:36 am

Fantastic photos and video of the action! I've seen Hummers chase and fight around the feeder before, but never on the ground. Tiny feathered gladiators!
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Sondra August 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm

WOW never had them fight that bad here–good thing I would have to be the REF…good actions shots tho.

Andy August 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm

You struck gold on this sequence!
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MaineBirder August 7, 2011 at 5:52 am

Thank all of you for the wonderful comments and insight! It's greatly appreciated.

While there's still some "chasing" going on, there has been no more on the ground combat. Males are beginning to disperse, leaving behind 6 frolicking fledglings and a handful of adult female Hummingbirds.

Thank you for stopping by!


missing moments August 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

Amazing capture and so aggressive! Most of mine just chase each other away from the feeders and have yet to observe this behavior!
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Chris August 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Woaw I did not know that they were so aggressive these little ones… You are so lucky to witness this and be able to take pictures. Well done the pictures are wonderful and the video very nice…
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Kelly August 11, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Wow!! What a series, John! Fantastic…beautiful photos and so interesting too. When I see our hummingbirds fight I'm always surprised at their viciousness. Our male seems to fly around with a continual scowl–always looking for an interloper to fight with!

Eileen August 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

Awesome photos and a great post. It is cool to watch the hummers battling for their food.

missing moments August 14, 2011 at 11:43 am

A great post. My hummers spend so much energy keeping each other away from the feeders. Fun to watch right outside my office window. Sometimes, one sits in wait on my butterfly bush to ambush any invaders!
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Pamela August 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I often have black chinned hummers in my garden. when they are chasing each other I think I hear their beaks clinking… I've seen them fly in and knock another one off the feeder, too

Andy August 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Wow o wow!
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Andrew Mooers December 17, 2011 at 6:08 am

Uncomfortable to think of cute Maine hummingbirds duking it out, fighting over anything. Like the small mouse between two large cats that close in, tease and play with the little creature that you can see sheer fright. His little chest beating wildly and how you would feel if this was your last day on earth with a violent death. But the law of the jungle thinking kicks in and you watch, collect images but don't interfere. Love your images and the time you put in to capturing, sharing them.
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