Readers’ wildlife photos

Stephen Barnard sends us some photos from Idaho: stills of the aerial dogfights (or ballets) he sees daily between two species of hummingbirds battling around the feeder on his porch. You should know by now that these little guys, while adorable, are fiercely territorial. I’m not sure what damage they can do to each other while defending a feeder: perhaps those sharp bills can poke out an eye! His notes:

The Rufous (Selasphorus rufus) and Black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri) have been fighting over the feeder. So far it’s a standoff. The Rufous are pugnacious but the Black-chinned are persistent and by no means shrinking violets. They go at this all day long, with at least hundreds
of other aggressive encounters.

(Don’t forget, you can see the photo at its original size if you click through on it twice.)







In an email, Stephen asked me if I knew of any other vertebrate that had antagonistic encounters with members of other vertebrate species on such a constant basis. I responded that hummingbirds probably didn’t attack each other like this except around a huge, defensible resource like a nectar feeder—something that doesn’t occur in nature (though big masses of flowers do); and if that’s the case, then perhaps lions defending the remains of their kill from hyenas or wild d*gs would compare. But, as Stephen pointed out, the d*gs and hyenas never win.


  1. Posted July 28, 2015 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Very nice Stephen (as always!). What shutter speed?

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:24 am | Permalink


      • Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        Wow, that stops the wings — almost. Or is that little blur just the DOF?

        You must have lightning-fast AF.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          To stop the wings in any position you need a flash, but if the wings are fully extended up or down (and therefore not moving very fast) 1/8000 will do.

          The AF is very good with this camera and lens.

  2. Posted July 28, 2015 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Or hyenas’s trying to defend their kills against scavenging lions. A scenario we don’t tend to hear about but that is apparently common (per the folks who used to run the Berkeley hyena colony)

    A ranger at Yosemite once told me of two black bears that got into a fight over a berry patch, with a fatal result to one animal, but that is within a species.

    I have been amazed over the last few years at how aggressive humming birds can be, especially at a feeder where several can feed at once, they will never share, and get so busy chasing each other like demented bumble bees that a third party can slip in and feed during the fight.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Hyenas do win in contests over a kill with lions. They will steal kills from lions, and the lions will steal kills from them. It is all a matter of who has sufficient numbers.

    • quiscalus
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      there is an article with a pic floating around the twittersphere of a hyena carrying the severed head of a lion. pretty gruesome but fascinating. of course, the article points out that it is probably a scavenge rather than kill, either from poachers or lion vs lion, and the hyena ate the loser.

  3. rickflick
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Hummers are spectacular birds. They are mesmerizing to watch and don’t mind if you get quite close. If I had to chose a favorite bird, I guess this would have to be it (don’t show me any Toucans while I’m contemplating my decision).

  4. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Eye poking sounds serious.

    Here is something that can be fixed, as today’s pick-me-up: beak surgery on chicks deformed in too small eggs! It is a cute chick too.[ ]

    • darrelle
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Very cool story. Thanks for pointing it out Torbjörn.

    • quiscalus
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Nice article. Now if the UK can stop gamekeepers and “sportsmen” shooting and poisoning endangered Hen Harriers. I was really hoping the Harriers would win the public vote to be the UK’s National Bird and maybe help boost their reputation as it has for our own Bald Eagle. Sadly, they came 9th out of the 10 finalists (no offense to the winning robins but, I mean, really?)

  5. Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Here in the tropics we do often see hummers fighting at flowering trees. The tree in front of my kitchen window is a frequent battleground. Not just hummer-on-hummer action but also hummers attacking flowerpiercers (small birds that get to flower nectar by making a hole in the base of the flower).

    Other birds are sometimes equally maniacal. Tropical kingbirds often spend a lot of time and energy attacking bigger birds.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I think that frequent interspecies battles over a bird feeder will apply to a number of bird species. Early this summer I had tried a bird feeder (an experiment that I later abdandoned b/c the feathery creatures crap over everything), and I saw constant war between the various species.

  7. darrelle
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Not that you need to be told, but damn. Your hummingbird photos are fabulous Stephen.

    I’ve been looking at prime lenses in the 300 to 500 mm range for my daughter to feed her photography interests (she wants more reach), but damn. Decent prime lenses of that size are expensive!

    • Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      For APS-C sensors, I have had terrific luck with this lens for a reasonable price (I would also recommend the APS-C sensor, more bang for the buck and the weight at the tele end of things):

      SIGMA 150-500mm f/5.6-6.3

      A review: Review by Ken Rockwell

      (Rockwell is pretty well reputed.)

      Great IQ, very good in-lens IS, essentially zero flare or CA.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 29, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        Thank you, I will definitely check it out. Her camera is an entry level dSLR, the Nikon D3200. In mid 2012 the APS-C sensor in the D3200 scored the 2nd highest DxOMark sensor scores ever, though 3 years can be a long time in camera tech.

        I would prefer to get a good prime lens like the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens, but that is not realistically possible. Even used ones run about $5000.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 29, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          See if there is an f/4 equivalent. Often, at the cost of one f/stop, you can get a very nice lens for much cheaper.

          • darrelle
            Posted July 29, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the tip.

        • Posted July 29, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          DxO is notorious for pulling stuff out of their netherbits to make Nikon look unbeatable and Canon look like shit. They’ve scored entry-level Nikon APS-C DSLRs better than Canon’s flagship model, and based such scores on claims that the Nikon has more dynamic range than the camera’s A/D converter has bits — a physical impossibility.

          Nikon makes some wonderful gear. I’m sure their 400 f/2.8 is going to be an absolutely stunning lens, well worth every penny. But they’re also going to have some other slower lenses that’ll be superlative and cost much less…and weigh a lot less, as well. Look for a 100-400 zoom.

          Also consider Sigma, which is making some of the best lenses today, period. Their latest 50mm lens is better than anything Canon or Nikon make, bested only by a Zeiss lens that costs four times as much as the Sigma.


          • darrelle
            Posted July 29, 2015 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the insights. We already have a good zoom lens that we are pretty happy with, but at the long end it can’t compare to lenses that are uncompromisingly designed for the long end.

            Though it may be worth it to step up one from the zoom we have for improved AF performance, i.e. there is a lens of similar performance that costs a bit more but has better AF performance.

  8. Thanny
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    They’re territorial even within the species. I only have Ruby-throated hummingbirds here, and they can’t abide each other. The only times there are two at the feeder is when they’re on opposite sides and don’t know the other is there – once they figure it out, one invariably chases the other away.

    A few years back, there was one rather pudgy male that took up a guard position in a nearby tree and chased all interlopers away before returning to his perch.

    By contrast, squabbles over seed among the various songbirds is exceedingly rare. The most competitive thing I’ve seen is a nuthatch putting on a threat display at a squirrel that was hogging the feeder.

    • quiscalus
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      I’ve had plenty of ruby fights, including one year when honey bees took over the feeder and I got some pics of the ruby dodging and fencing with the bees.

      the biggest feeder fights usually involve the starlings against each other or the less noisy and short-lived starling vs various woodpeckers(and why I can’t always put out suet cakes, starlings en masse are big bullies)

      • Jeffery
        Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        My sister feeds hummingbirds on a regular basis and is constantly witnessing, “bird v/s bee” encounters.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 28, 2015 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

      “By contrast, squabbles over seed among the various songbirds is exceedingly rare.”

      Maybe not as constant as Hb warfare, but they’re hardly exceedingly rare IME.

  9. DrBrydon
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    More awesome photos. Thanks, Stephen!

  10. Randy Schenck
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Really nice pictures.

    We minimize the fighting between birds by having two or three different feeding areas. At least I think that helps, plus a diversity of eating materials.

    I don’t know if any of that would help with hummers. I doubt it.

  11. Karen Bartelt
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Lovely photos.
    We have a summer population of 12-20 in our yard, and there are squabbles. We have several large feeders with lots of perches (ie, feeding holes), and eventually, they begin to get along, and we’ll have 6 eating together, though somewhat uneasily. The worst thing that’s happened is a bird getting its bill stuck in the screening on the porch. They can usually back out or we can get them backed up, but last year one actually broke its neck and died after spearing the screen. Sad.

  12. Charles
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful hummingbirds Mr. Barnard!

  13. Derek Freyberg
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    My wife teaches at a local community college, and she had a student come in one day bleeding profusely from a scalp wound – he’d been attacked by a hummingbird! We see them at home chasing one another away from our fountain and “wall” of passionflowers – but never actual fights.

  14. Posted July 28, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    That shot of the two hummers standing off is superlative.

    At the Houle’s one morning there was a battle royale between three hummers…and an honeybee. With the bee successfully defending the feeder against the birds….


  15. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Primates also fight over resources. It is what a lot of wars have been about. Also about showing who is the better group.

  16. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh and lovely shots, Stephen!

  17. Posted July 29, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Exquisite photos, Stephen. Thanks again!

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