All of us scan our feeders throughout the day and periodically see a hummingbird feeding, but is it the same bird? How many birds do you actually have? That is a question where I'm sure the answer would surprise many people. The females have a mission in nesting and raising the young, so they typically don't stick around the feeders for any time beyond a minute each feed. Then there are the males who have a pecking order. They will battle it out to see who outlasts each other to determine their choice of territory. The strongest and most courageous will pick his favorite location and determine how big an area he wants to defend. The next in line will choose his favorite of what remains, and so on down the line.
Once territories are determined, food can become an obstacle for those who are pushed out of the prime locations. They may be forced to steal what doesn't belong to them, and that could mean risking life and limb to get it. The fact is that many areas are limited for food, so numerous males could be seeking out the delicacy that can only be found in large doses within a feeder, and they may be few and far between. This is the reason I always suggest multiple feeders and well spaced out around your garden. It makes it very difficult for one male to dominate all feeders, and it allows several other males the opportunity to get in a feed with a bit less danger of meeting up with the dominant one.
So which one is the dominant one? Well that is always the one who wants to be seen. He will sit in the open, high atop a tree or post, and let every other intruder know that that's his territory and he's not afraid of anything. He wants to be seen, whereas the other males don't. Fidgety behavior of a drinking male can often times indicate he's scared for his life and will frequently feed in and out of the feeder like a woodpecker. The dominant male is usually far more relaxed. He takes his time feeding and lifts his head out of a feeder just to get a breath of air before overindulging with another glug of nectar. Watch for these habits. One wants to tell the world he's in control, while the others take a quick feed and leave the yard or hide deep in the tree and not atop it.
Here are a few far and near shots of Ziggy the dominant one, sitting as high up as he can to try and detect any thieving intruder or to spot a newly arrived female looking for a mate. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 28, 2018.
He returned, and more miserable than ever. I suppose he had good reason. There are multiple males attempting a takeover, but when it comes right down to it, they lack the courage of Ziggy. He has chosen the same perches all around the garden as last year, shows up every time the garden hose comes out, and has dominated every area of the yard. Many other male Rubies have tried a quick intimidation tactic, but all very short lived. You can hear short chirps nearby Ziggy, but as they get within 10 feet, they quickly lose all courage and bolt in the other direction. Ziggy doesn't tolerate it. He has no fear, and up to this point no challenger has had the abilities or courage to push it any further. Ziggy still dominates, and while he has multiple males to frequently chase out of the yard, he still has the stamina to finish what he came for.
Every time I get the garden hose out to water the flowers, he makes an appearance. My wife even had the pleasure of watching Ziggy closeup on the fountain as she was watering the plants. At one point I saw the shadow of a hummingbird on the ground as I watered the flowers. I looked up in the trees around me, but didn't see him. I continued watering only to be startled by the red flashes of Ziggy's throat as he sat on the bamboo stick 3 feet away. I froze to get a good look, and he dropped his head slightly and took a good look at me. I think he just likes giving me the business.
He's thoroughly enjoyed the fountain several times a day, but I still have trouble understanding why he likes bathing at 7am when the temperature is 10C(52F). Since he shows up every time I have the garden hose out, he makes it very difficult to photograph him on the fountain. I did manage a few shots from about 60 feet away.
Finally, I have to share one more quick story. My wife and I sat under the Maple tree and Ziggy sat about 6 feet away. He had little concern for us moving and talking. My wife got up to walk to the house. She was on the deck about 50 feet away when Ziggy flew in the opposite direction. He arched up into the sky about 30 feet, and swooped down and accelerated towards the feeder beyond where my wife was standing. He didn't do a bee line to the feeder, but instead veered off track by about 10 feet to his right. He just had to roast Tracy by inches, enough to put the fear in her and send chills up her spine. If he doesn't have a sense of humor, he sure does like to intimidate. I can't tell you how many times he's done this over the last few years and why he finds it necessary.
Ziggy, the Ruby-throat hummingbird enjoying a morning bath. May 27, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.