Watch hummingbirds feed – and fight – in slo-mo | 1/11/2019 | Eleanor Imster
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Most hummingbirds have bills and tongues exquisitely designed to slip inside a flower, lap up nectar and squeeze every last drop of precious sugar water from their tongue to fuel their frenetic lifestyle.

But in the tropics of South America, scientists have found that some male hummers have traded efficient feeding for bills that are better at stabbing and plucking other hummingbirds as they fend off rivals for food and mates. The males’ weaponized bills are good not only for pulling feathers and pinching skin, but also wrestling their rivals away from prime feeding spots.

Video - Cameras - Researchers - Fencing - Feeding

Using high-speed video cameras, the researchers captured hummingbird fencing and feeding strategies in slow motion to document the various ways the birds use their bills to fight and the trade-offs they accept when choosing fighting over feeding prowess.

University of California-Berkeley biologist Alejandro Rico-Guevara is lead author of a study, published January 2, 2019 in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology, describing how bill shape affects hummingbird feeding and fighting strategies. Rico-Guevara said in a statement:

Hummingbirds - Lives - Flowers - Morphologies - Bills

We understand hummingbirds’ lives as being all about drinking efficiently from flowers, but then suddenly we see these weird morphologies – stiff bills, hooks and serrations like teeth – that don’t make any sense in terms of nectar collection efficiency.

Male tooth-billed hummingbirds, Androdon aequatorialis, have highly weaponized bills, with hooked tips and backward facing teeth. Photo via Kristiina Hurme, Colombia.

Rico-Guevara - Hummingbirds - Fighters - Hawks - Owls

Rico-Guevara said that hummingbirds have long been known as fierce fighters – they even attack hawks, owls and other birds if they perceive a threat – but the fights happen so fast that scientists haven’t been able to see the actual outcome. He said:

Because it happens so fast and they fly away, you can’t track them. But also, people haven’t actually looked at the details of the beaks. We are making connections between how feisty...
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