Mysteries of Hummingbird Courtship

Photo Courtesy Larry Gates

Very little is known about courtship in ruby-throated hummingbirds. Maybe you can help solve this mystery through your own observations!

Single Parents
The whole point of courtship is clear: to mate and have young. Do hummers keep the same mate season after season? No. They don't even stay together to raise the babies. The female does ALL the work herself, and a male hummer will mate with any females he can attract to his territory.

Serious About Territory
Establishing territory is very serious business. Male hummingbirds usually arrive on the breeding grounds way ahead of the females and start to establish their territories. They look for areas with lots of nectar-rich flowers and with perches from which they can survey their domain. The size of a hummer's territory varies with the number of flowering plants and the amount of nectar those plants will provide, but an average territory is about 1/4 of an acre (about 1/4 the size of a football field). If the flowers in a male's territory finish blooming, he knows what to do: he simply changes his territory to another spot with more flowers.

Any hummingbird that enters the territory, whether male or female, gets chased. Hummers are feisty and pugnacious! If the bird doesn't leave, the territory holder may respond with several types of aerial displays, such as diving, spreading his tail, or other displays. Not only the males, but also females defend territories around the nest, and sometimes around food sources too. Watch for these behaviors when your hummers are around!

Try This! Journaling Questions
  • Why do you think female hummingbirds are larger than males?
  • What behaviors can you watch for to tell whether hummingbirds might be nesting?