Private Property, Hummingbird Style

We recently replaced our long-empty hummingbird feeders with new models that aren’t prone to having their entire contents dump out at random intervals. This has re-established us on the hummingbird circuit. Where for the last few years we rarely saw hummers in our yard we are now visited daily by quite a number of them. They usually travel, and feed, as individuals.

But sometimes more than one shows up at a time. And thereby hangs a tale.

There’s one bird who will show up, feed…and then go sit in a nearby tree, from which it shoos away any other hummer who dares to intrude on “its” feeder. And it’s quite persistent about defending its turf.

Yesterday I was working outside with my buddy Seth on our next podcast when the latest installment of this little pas-de-deux took place. We both got a laugh out of how at least some of these tiny creatures have apparently stumbled upon the idea of private property1.

In the midst of the aerial acrobatics more hummingbirds started showing up. Suddenly the marketplace didn’t have just one or two birds, but five…and all hell broke loose! No one dared land on the feeder in the midst of the gymnastics, and the low-level hum that gives the birds their name got quite a bit louder.

This ended up flummoxing the original territorial bird, who flew off. As did two of the newcomers.

The remaining two entered into a different kind of negotiation: one landed and fed, while the other hovered nearby, finally alighting on the feeder about as far away from the first as he could get2.

Apparently at least some hummingbirds know how to share, too :).

  1. Our notion of private property, which many of us take for granted as a fundamental projection of human values and interests, isn’t actually universal among human cultures. But that’s something for another day. And maybe another podcast. 

  2. I’ve noticed hummingbirds seem to have different personal feeding modes, or maybe all of them have the same two modes but switch between them. Some land and take a sip, look up to check for threats, take another sip, repeat. Others never land, but instead feed while hovering. Which makes me wonder how much net food energy they’re actually getting, since their flight mode must eat up a lot of calories! 

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