Woodpeckers and hummingbirds have to be two birds in everybody’s top 5 list that are incredibly fun to watch, and they can often both be seen inhabiting the same areas. That means they can sometimes be seen in the same place together or even interacting. Does this mean they get along?
While hummingbirds and woodpeckers may leave one another alone most of the time, hummingbirds and woodpeckers have an apathetic relationship and sometimes even a violent one. Most of the time, hummingbirds will leave the woodpecker alone because they are larger.
I know this might not have been the relationship you hoped for, especially from birds we’ve always thought to be so sweet, but there’s a lot more to it than “they don’t like each other.” Keep reading if you want to see how their natural behaviors collide!
A lot of creatures have a symbiotic relationship, like the Rhino and the red-billed oxpecker, or the sharks and jackfish, so could the woodpeckers and hummingbirds be one of those couples? They’re both birds after all, wouldn’t that mean they get along easier?
No. Not even a little bit. Try looking up hummingbird and woodpecker videos on YouTube and the first thing you see is “V.S”. It’s true that this is mainly because they are comparison videos, but I think they give us insight into the relationship between these two species of bird that they have with each other.
Like other birds, these two don’t really “get along,” in that they are friendly to one another. They are all competitors. Even birds with friendly dispositions understand that perfectly in the wild.
So long as a bird from another species doesn’t encroach on either the woodpecker’s or hummingbird’s food, water, or nest, and so long as another bird of their own species doesn’t try to do the same, they will tolerate one another with one eye kept on them at all times.
In addition to the general relationship that two different bird species will have with one another, we can detail more specifically how woodpeckers and hummingbirds interact with one another.
Because of the size of some species of woodpecker, hummingbirds tend to leave them alone. For example, Archilochus colubris (the ruby-throated hummingbird) would likely encounter the Picoides pubescens or Melanerpes carolinus (the downy and red-bellied woodpeckers), but since the ruby is half the size of the red-belly and the downy, it will immediately fly away.
With that being said, there is definitely a spot of contention that the woodpecker has no problem instigating, and it regards the hummingbird’s food. We’ve all put out hummingbird feeders full of sugar water with the intention of feeding the cute hummingbird, but it turns out other birds are able to feed out of it, including the woodpecker!
If you are like me, not too long ago I didn’t even know any other bird could eat from hummingbird feeders. I didn’t even know anything else would be interested in the “nectar” in the feeder.
As it turns out, woodpeckers have extraordinarily long tongues, much like the hummingbird. This isn’t too surprising, as woodpeckers, being omnivores, find some of their insect snacks by using their beaks to break apart the wood of the tree and lick up the insect they want to eat.
Well, woodpeckers, such as the sapsucker, love nectar as a quick source of energy and can take full advantage of their unusually long tongues as they perch right on the feeder and lick out the sugar water. Sometimes, insects will also get stuck in the feeder and the woodpecker will eat them.
It’s just like when humans finish an intense workout and they need carbs and energy immediately to sustain themselves and will fight anyone who stands between them and the gas station.
You might think that a bird twice the size of a hummingbird would have a tongue that is twice the size and so wouldn’t fit, but they are surprisingly wide. I once saw a bee that found her way inside the feeder and got stuck there.
Generally, hummingbirds will not try to defend their feeders from woodpeckers. As I mentioned earlier, they are much smaller than woodpeckers, and they know it.
When a woodpecker shows up, they scare away any hummingbirds in the area, and the poor little hummingbirds won’t show up again until the coast is clear.
This is actually kind of unusual for the hummingbird because they have particular behaviors around their food sources that suggest they would have defended their food source with their lives, regardless of the type of bird trying to use it.
It may help clarify the relationship that hummingbirds and woodpeckers have if we point out the specific social behaviors, especially around food.
It can be easy for us to want to say, “Can’t you two just get along?” like they were siblings, but they aren’t, and each species has particular behaviors that help explain why they act the way they do.
Hummingbirds are naturally territorial, especially over their food source. Their spatial memory will allow them to mentally claim a very long path of flowers that they follow daily, memorizing each spot.
Suburban feeders are the jackpot food source that they will jealously guard against other hummingbirds. Some species in South America actually have stiff, serrated beaks with sharp teeth that allow them to fight effectively for dominance.
As for woodpeckers, we touched earlier on the fact that woodpeckers are omnivores, but what I didn’t point out was the fact that some species of woodpecker will eat smaller birds or even baby birds.
It’s shocking since we aren’t inclined to think of woodpeckers as predatory birds, but this does explain why the hummingbird is inclined to leave the woodpecker alone.
If you experience this aggression from your local woodpeckers, you are probably looking for ways to make sure the food you intended for the hummingbirds gets to the hummingbirds. I can give you a few suggestions
A good way to keep animals from fighting over food is to provide enough of it in separate feeders. Woodpeckers are very fond of suet cakes, sunflower seeds, grains, mealworms, and larvae. They should leave the hummingbird feeder alone in favor of the fattening foods.
Unless a hummingbird is exhausted, they tend to hover while they feed. You can keep woodpeckers from feeding from the feeder by making sure they don’t have anywhere to perch and reach the feeder.
Hummingbirds get their nourishment through natural means, not just through suburban feeders. Planting flowers like Agastache that have flowers full of nectar in various spots will let the hummingbirds feed in case the feeder is occupied.
So, in short, these two birds don’t like each other, but you don’t typically need to worry about seeing them fight to the death. With these suggestions, you’ll help keep unfortunate incidents from happening.