In mid-November 2015, Mary Welty, of Temecula, California, noticed an Anna’s Hummingbird at her backyard feeder that wasn’t moving and appeared to have its bill stuck in a feeder port. A few minutes later, a second Anna’s landed on the first bird’s back and bounced on it (first photo, above). Then the apparently stuck bird pulled itself out of the port, seemingly unharmed (middle photo, below).
Welty wondered what was going on, and we weren’t sure, so we asked hummingbird expert Sheri Williamson, director of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory and author of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002), to explain.
Williamson said the bill probably wasn’t stuck. “What seems more likely based on the bird’s slumped posture is that it lost its footing on the perch, tipped forward, and was too weak and/or confused to extricate itself from the awkward position,” she says. “Accidents like this happen frequently with recently independent youngsters, sick birds, and exhausted but otherwise healthy migrants, and they can be fatal if the space between the perch and feeder base is wide enough for the bird to get trapped.”
Hummingbirds defend feeder ports as their turf, and they sometimes try to usurp a port from a rival bird, she adds.
“It’s quite common for birds that are not behaving normally to be treated with suspicion and even attacked by other birds, and that’s what appears to be happening. The second bird is employing a tactic typical of territorial hummingbirds for dealing with rivals that don’t respond to displays and vocal threats. I’ve seen impatient aggressors, usually adult males as in this case, grab healthy but obliviously feeding competitors by the tail or back feathers and drag them bodily off the feeder. It looks like the aggressor here is trying to get a drink (third photo, above); the other ports appear to be in use by normal birds presumably capable of defending their turf.
“In this case, the aggressive bird’s actions might have had some incidental benefit to the compromised one, most likely by rousing it from its stupor,” she says. “But it’s not unheard of for a hummingbird that’s unable either to escape or effectively defend itself to be attacked and killed by other hummingbirds.”
A version of this article appears in the forthcoming February 2016 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.
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