Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Male Territoriality

I saw the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring in Eliza Howell Park on May 4 this year.

As usual, the first one seen was a male; males return to their breeding ground earlier than females.

And as usual, I saw it perched on a bare branch of a fairly small dead tree. Males quickly claim a territory and watch over it carefully.

Photo by Margaret Weber

Over the last 10 years or so, I have come to expect to see a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched in the same tree on a daily basis. He is not there every time I walk past, but more often than not.

(Individual hummingbirds do not normally live 10 years, so I think this is at least the second generation claiming this spot.)

When the hummingbird in the tree is pointed out on nature walks, visitors often express surprise at seeing one perched. They are used to seeing a hovering bird, at flowers or at a feeder, not one watching zealously over its territory from a favorite perch.

Photo by Margaret Weber

The male’s role is pretty much defined by its territoriality. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not form breeding pairs. When a female enters the territory, the male performs a courtship display. If the female is interested, they mate.

And that is the end of the male’s role in parenting. The female makes the nest on her own, does all the incubating, feeds the young by herself.

The male watches over his territory.

Photo by Margaret Weber

While there is one tree that seems to be used most frequently, the male also perches on other open branches as it performs its sentry duty. It quickly darts from one to another.

Photo by Margaret Weber

The number of perching sites that I have been seeing during the past week and the distance between one end of the route and the other suggest that there are now likely two adjacent territories patrolled by two different males. I’m not yet sure.

Occasionally stopping to nectar at a flowering tree, the male quickly returns to sentry duty.

Photo by Margaret Weber

Female hummingbirds have just returned. Soon they will begin nesting. Females defend their own nesting territory, if needed, but for the most part they prefer not to be seen.The males, on the other hand, will continue to perch out in the open for about the next 4 months.

Many bird species are territorial. The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird seems to specialize in it.

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