Endemic to the Americas, hummingbirds are defined by their small stature and dart-like movements. But when it comes to mating, do these aerial experts keep things equally quick or do they instead take the slow and steady approach?
Given hummingbirds’ propensity to congregate around flowers and artificial feeders, one might expect that they’re gregarious creatures, but this is far from the truth. In fact, hummingbirds are generally solitary, territorial birds, and most of the time they can be quite aggressive to one another, regardless of sex. “Hummingbirds are mean to everybody,” said Kristiina Hurme, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Connecticut.
Hummingbirds typically limit their social interactions to feeding and mating. The breeding season varies between species, but it often coincides with the rain, which causes a spike in the abundance of insects, said Alejandro Rico-Guevara, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist with the University of Connecticut and University of California-Berkeley. This rich source of protein is needed for plumage molting and egg production, as well as feeding chicks.
How hummingbirds go about mating also varies. “Every single species has a special ritual or mating display,” Rico-Guevara told Live Science. “And they are super complicated.”
Forest-dwelling hermit hummingbirds (those of the subfamily Phaethornithinae) often adhere to a so-called lek mating system, in which males gather in an open area to try to woo females, which visit the males one-by-one. The males, which maintain small territories, start by chirping. This sound is seemingly simple to human ears, but it actually contains layers of complexity when slowed down with computers. “[Hummingbirds] may not only be able to see in high speed but also listen in high speed,” Rico-Guevara said.
An impressed female will perch near a singing male, prompting him to perform tricks to further entice her. These alluring moves may include making sounds with his bill, flying around the female, flying side-to-side in front of her, and displaying his tail and his feathers.
Fights among competing males aren’t uncommon………