Why Would a Hummingbird Build Its Nest Near a Hawk?

Hummingbirds in Arizona build their nests close to hawks; the hawks unwittingly protect them from predatory jays.
Hummingbirds in Arizona build their nests close to hawks; the hawks unwittingly protect them from predatory jays.

Everyone needs a little protection from time to time – even hummingbirds. The spirited little guys might be able to fly backward and flap their wings 80 times per second, but physically, they're no match for predators like jays that want to dine on hummingbird eggs and babies. But while hummingbirds might be small in stature, they're big in brainpower.

University of Arizona biologist Harold Greeney and his colleagues studied the nesting locations of black-chinned hummingbirds, Mexican jays, goshawks, and Cooper’s hawks in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. They noted that the hummingbirds have learned to build their nests near or under the nests of the much tougher hawks. The jays don't dare go near the hawks, which means they unwittingly stay away from hummingbird nests, too, vastly improving the survival rates of the eggs and baby birds. Interestingly, the hawks will prey on jays but ignore hummingbirds.

Prof. Richard Prum, an evolutionary ornithologist, says that hummingbirds are so successful with this strategy that they often return to the same nests. "Of course, the dynamics would be aided by some social copying behavior," he said. "Young, inexperienced birds would benefit from setting up near the competition if older birds know enough to set up near a hawk nest."

Some hummingbird humdingers:

  • When hummingbirds migrate, they tend to travel alone rather than in flocks, and sometimes fly 500 miles (805 km) at a time.

  • Hummingbirds find feeders by their coloring (often red), since they have no sense of smell.

  • Hummingbirds are only found in South and North America, yet they boast 340 species.

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    • Hummingbirds in Arizona build their nests close to hawks; the hawks unwittingly protect them from predatory jays.
      By: Steve Peck
      Hummingbirds in Arizona build their nests close to hawks; the hawks unwittingly protect them from predatory jays.