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Mated For Life Or Swift Courtships? Hummingbird Relationships Explained

Do hummingbirds mate for life?

Hummingbirds make small, exquisite nests, and lay tiny eggs! Like other birds, they also have to find mates and raise their babies.

How do hummingbirds find the right mate? Do they stay with that same mate for the rest of their life?

See this article for answers to these questions and to learn all about hummingbird courtship!

 

The Art of Courtship

Hummingbird males attract females in one of two ways. Like other birds, they sing! Yes, although it’s hard to believe most, if not all, male hummingbirds sing.

For the most part, their songs aren’t like those of other birds, and upon hearing them, you would hardly even call it a song. However, males do indeed find good perches where they sing songs composed of high-pitched twittering, chipping, and buzzing calls.

Many hummingbird songs are simple chip notes and insect-like noises. However, a few tropical species have loud, complex songs that can even include the mimicked calls of other bird species!

annas-hummingbird

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird of Central America sings like this. Interestingly enough, this species is also one of the duller hummingbirds. It seems that it sings a fancy song to attract females instead of using bright colors.

Speaking of bright and beautiful colors, this is how most male hummingbirds also attract females. Take a look at a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Costa’s Hummingbird, and many other species and we see that males are much more brightly colored than females.

Their shining, iridescent colors attract the attention of females while also demonstrating how healthy the male bird is. The brighter the male’s plumage, the healthier he is.

 

What do hummingbird displays look like?

Male hummingbirds might attract females with a nice song and fancy plumage, but to find a mate, they also need to dance. Hummingbird feet are too small for shuffles or quick steps, but they can do wonders with their wings!

Lucifer Hummingbird's display

Hummingbird displays are some of the more impressive avian courtship displays on the planet. Watch male hummingbirds in spring, and you’ll probably see them in action. In most displays, the male birds hover and fly back and forth, in front of the female.

They make sure to fly at a distance and angles that accentuate the colors on their body and shining throats. To better display their throat patch or “gorget,” male hummingbirds may also extend it and move it back and forth.

Small hummingbird species in North America and elsewhere also do diving displays where they make high-pitched buzzy or whining sounds with their wings and tails. They can start their dives 90 feet above and abruptly end it near the ground, usually right next to the female.

Dive displays also vary by species, with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird making a “U”-shaped dive and the Anna’s Hummingbird making a “J”-shaped dive.

In tropical regions, male hummingbird displays can also make use of long, flowing tails and other fancy plumage!

 

How Long Do Hummingbirds Stay Together?

Hummingbirds do not mate for life. Although some cultures view hummingbirds as signs of romance, love, and fidelity, the real hummingbird world is just the opposite.

No hummingbird species are known to form long-term pair bonds.

They don’t even stay together long enough to build nests and raise their young.

Male hummingbirds can mate with several females but never stick around.

After a female hummingbird mates, she picks a suitable site and builds the nest. Black-chinned Hummingbirds and most other hummingbird species pick nests sites that are partially hidden or protected in other ways.

Hummingbird nest

For example, Black-chinned Hummingbirds often make their nest over a stream or other spot that helps keep it out of reach of predators. Female hummingbirds also build their small, soft nests in trees, and hanging from underneath banana-like leaves.

Tropical species such as the Green-breasted Mango also frequently build their nests on metal connections of roadside power lines!

Read more: Fun hummingbird facts

Female hummingbirds do all the incubation duties and eggs usually hatch after12 days. The mother hummingbird then feeds her young without any help from the male. She feeds her babies by placing her beak in their mouth and regurgitating tiny bits of bugs and other arthropods. Eventually, she also gives them nectar.

 

Fun Facts

  • Migrant hummingbirds return to their same nesting area. Although females may end up choosing the same male as the previous nesting season, that’s more by chance than preference. They base their choice on a male’s display.
  • The colors on a male hummingbird’s throat come from the structure of the feathers and depend on how the light hits the feathers. At some angles, the feathers can look black.
  • Hummingbirds build nests with spiderwebs. As the young birds grow, the soft nest expands to accommodate them.
  • Female hummingbirds do all of their nest building on their own and complete it in less than a week.
  • Males of several tropical hummingbird species attract females with lekking behavior. The males perch in the same general area and sing over and over. Females occasionally visit to pick a mate.
  • During the dive displays, male Anna’s Hummingbirds can reach speeds of 60 mph!
  • The male Broad-tailed Hummingbird of the Rocky Mountains makes a distinctive trilling sound in flight. It accomplishes this with special notched wing feathers.
  • Male hummingbirds spend much of their time feeding, chasing other males away from their territories, and displaying to females.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do hummingbirds pick a new mate every year?

Hummingbirds are not monogamous birds, so males try to attract another female soon after mating.

Do male hummingbirds mate with different females during the breeding season?

Hummingbirds are polygynous; male hummingbirds mate with multiple females during the spring.

What does hummingbird mating look like?

Mating hummingbirds is a sight to see – if you’re lucky enough to see it. It all starts with elaborate displays and with the male trying to attract the female’s attention. If they succeed, the actual mating will ensue.

The mating act itself is fast, taking just a few seconds. The male mounts the female, and after the cloacal kiss, both fly away.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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