Fawn-breasted Brilliants in combat

Here’s an interesting observation of an unusually prolonged battle between two large tropical hummingbirds, posted by Dennis Arendt, Lelis Navarete, Kit Larsen, Roger Robb, and Leon Esthleman to NEOORN-L, a listserv for ornithologists working in the Neotropics, and cross-posted to HUMNET (reformatted for ease of reading):

A male Fawn-breasted Brilliant photographed on my December 2009 trip to Ecuador

A male Fawn-breasted Brilliant photographed on my December 2009 trip to Ecuador

On 5 October, 2010, at the hummingbird feeding station at Cabañas San Isidro east of Quito, Ecuador, two male Fawn-breasted Brilliants fell to the ground together. They appeared to have their feet intertwined and their bills were jabbing each other. It was 15:31 and a light rain had begun.

They stayed quiet in the wet grass with one bird on top of the other. Both birds had their wings extended fully. The bird on top had its long bill stuck into the neck feathers of the bird underneath. The bird dominating the other would move its bill from the neck to the wing, probing and sometimes grabbing feathers.

After about ten minutes, the bird underneath would fight to release himself from the bird above. They flopped sideways and moved a few centimeters, but the dominating bird stayed on top. They would stay quietly in the grass for several minutes, then the struggle would be repeated with the same results.

The rain grew heavy and this struggle continued for one hour and forty minutes. At 17:11 the dominating bird flew up to a sugar water feeder and sat on top, not on the perch, and drank for half a minute. Then it flew away.

The other hummingbird was picked up from the wet grass. It was thoroughly wet, but alive, and showed no indications that its flesh had been pierced by the other bird’s bill. The defeated bird would surely have died without help. It was taken back to the kitchen at Cabañas San Isidro where it was warmed and fed sugar water. It too flew off after about fifteen minutes.

Emphasis added to highlight additional evidence of the inadequacy of a hummingbird’s bill as a weapon. Poking? Yes. Grabbing? That too. Piercing? Not so much.

Related posts on this topic:

Killer hummingbirds?
Search of the Week: “hummingbird attack eyes”

2 thoughts on “Fawn-breasted Brilliants in combat

  1. Pingback: Search of the Week: “hummingbird attack eyes” « Life, Birds, and Everything

  2. This post reminds me of the Cinnamons at my feeders – they get really nasty with each other and the other hummers. They seem especially vocal and they open their mouths wide while swooping in and sometimes ripping feeding birds from their perches. For all its brutality, it is pretty hilarious stuff. I was coming home the other day and noticed two of them really going at it. They performed their swirling, squawking dance right down to the ground and the loser just lied their on its back, panting like mad. I hurried over to see if it was OK and it popped up and flew off. Of course I promptly died laughing. So I don’t know if it was one of the aforementioned birds but a Cinnamon was being quite vicious for the rest of the afternoon. Makes me wonder if a victorious bird gets jacked up from ‘winning’ and then goes on to terrorize the other birds. Or maybe the loser was taking out his frustrations? I’m probably putting too much thought into this but maybe you have some thoughts?

    I think your blog is brilliant, by the way. Thanks for putting in the time to share all of this information.

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