Mysteries of Hummingbird Courtship
Photo Courtesy Larry Gates
is known about courtship in ruby-throated hummingbirds. Maybe you can
help solve this mystery through your own observations!
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.
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?