Aug 19, 2020 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, August 2019

Is It a Crime to Kill a Hummingbird?

A female (left) and juvenile male (right) ruby-throated hummingbird face off at a backyard feeder. Photo by J. Womack.

Dear Birdsquatch:

Is hummingbirdicide a crime? I adore eight of my hummingbirds, but Number 9, a male, is making life difficult for all the others. I want to kill him. Not really, but he must be stopped! Can I trap him and relocate him? Any advice?

—Fern B.,
Rolla, Missouri

Dear Fern,

Put down the butterfly net and the gun, Fern, and take a few deep breaths. Hummingbirdicide is illegal. All native North American birds—no matter how obnoxious—are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

By nature, hummingbirds are wired to protect their territory, but some individuals are clearly more aggressive—and selfish—than others. There is no behavior modification therapy for hummingbirds, but there are a few tricks to thwart aggression. I don't guarantee that any of these will work, but they're all worth a try.

  • Provide several hummingbird feeders out of sight of the others—maybe one on each side of your house. Mr. Bossy Pants can't guard them all simultaneously.
  • Cluster several nectar feeders near each other. This is likely to attract more hummingbirds—too many for the bully to fight off.
  • Provide several nectar feeders throughout your yard if you have enough space to do so.
  • Follow the bully to determine his favorite perch—where he sits to guard the feeders. Then remove that perch! If it's a branch, cut it; if it's the shepherd's hook holding a bird feeder, relocate it out of sight of the nectar feeder; if it's your kids' swing set, try to figure out a way to block the line of sight from the look-out post to the feeders. The bully will have to take a time out to formulate a new strategy.
  • Plant more nectar-producing plants, and hang more hummingbird-attracting flower baskets. If your yard is bordered with nectar-producing plants, hummingbirds will be spread out, rather than concentrated at your nectar feeder.
  • Learn to love the bully. Dominance hierarchies are normal among hummingbirds, and to some extent, it is natural selection at work.

If all hummingbirds would just get along and live in peace, they'd all have more food for less work. But that's not nature's way. Isn't the feistiness of hummingbirds part of their charm?

About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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