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Biology graduate student Alyssa Sargent in KUOW on hummingbird fights

Thursday, May 2, 2024 - 11:45

Biology graduate student Alyssa Sargent was quoted in a KUOW article on hummingbirds and their territorial fights. Also quoted in the article is Biology Assistant Professor Alejo Rico-Guevara.

Excerpt from article:

At first, I didn't know what I was seeing — a tiny blur at the edge of a bush in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood, from which emitted a dramatic, high-pitched scream.

Then the scene became clear: Two hummingbirds were brawling, violently, think barroom at 1 a.m. And one was clearly losing.

Hummingbirds, I realized, are not just adorable. They're also jerks.

Yes, jerks. But don't take my word for it.

“'Hummingbirds are jerks' is a pretty good tagline for how hummingbirds operate. I use that word a lot to describe them. They fight all the time," said Alyssa Sargent, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington working in the behavioral ecophysics lab.

I witnessed the ultimate victor bashing its foe into the ground as it held on with its feet, stabbing its competitor with its needle-like beak the entire time.

It was a sobering moment. Should I have broken up the fight? Perhaps offered each bird complimentary nectar and let them chirp out their woes until they calmed down?

"Trying to break up a hummingbird fight, you’d be fighting a losing battle there," Sargent said.

Sure, hummingbirds are renowned for their beauty and rapid, graceful flight. They are a treat in any garden and are generally greeted with joy.

"Hummingbirds are so fast, that when they fight, most of the time you see a blur," said Alejo Rico-Guevara, an assistance professor at UW's Department of Biology, and also curator of birds at the Burke Museum.

"You often see them when they are calmly dipping their head down at a feeder, and sitting in branches," Rico-Guevara said. "You may not realize they're keeping a bubble around themselves. And the way to keep that bubble is by chasing others, very fiercely, away from their territories."

In my case, one hummingbird likely bellied up to a flower, and another didn't like that so much. One started chirping. The other took umbridge. A fight ensued until they were both on the ground.

I walked away as the victor flew higher, and the other stayed grounded. I'm sorry to say, I don't know it fared.

Read the full article in KUOW.

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