A few days ago there was a short but eye-opening New York Times article concerning recent research on hummingbirds. The research indicates that Hummingbird beaks evolved primarily for fighting, not for feeding.
The traditional view has been that the long, slender hummingbird beaks co-evolved with tubular flowers as a means of accessing food. However, it turns out that Hummingbird beaks are not terribly efficient at sucking up nectar, but they do make excellent weapons for fighting other hummingbirds.
Male Hummingbirds fight in order to control prime mating territories, which is how one attracts the Hummingbird ladies. (The article notes that a typical mating territory is about 270 square feet, or “the size of a very small New York City apartment.”) It doesn’t matter if you are inefficient at sipping nectar if you don’t let any other Hummingbirds get to the flowers in your territory.
To that end, some Hummingbird species have serrated beaks, reminiscent of a shark’s jaws.
Anyone who has spent much time watching Hummingbirds knows that they are fierce. However, some people insist on portraying them as beautiful but harmless little sprites, sort of like avian Tinkerbells. On the other hand, the Aztec god of war was a Hummingbird, and Aztec warriors wore Hummingbird feathers when they marched off to battle.
The online article is accompanied by an excellent video (click above to watch), mostly of Hummingbirds fighting. I recommend that you watch, but it is not for the faint of heart (I gasped at one point). Also, I apologize for the 10 second advertisement.
I still love Hummingbirds, even if they are tiny thugs. Plants that attract Hummingbirds (like Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitca), Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) get priority placement in our garden.
At the same time, I’m glad that people are too big to be harmed by Hummingbirds, because they seem to be so fierce that they might inflict real damage (if they could) on anybody who wanders into their mating territory.