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Hummingbird attack

Weighing in at only a few ounces — about the weight of a deck of cards — calliope hummingbirds are the most common of the small species found in Montana.

Although tiny — about 3.5 inches long with a wingspan of 4 inches — calliope hummingbirds are feisty. They will fight other hummingbirds and larger birds like hawks and owls to protect their feeding areas or to compete with other males for female mates.

There are more than 300 different species of hummingbirds in the world, only about 15 of which are found in the western United States. Where there is more competition for food because there are more hummers, like in South America, some of the males’ long beaks have been built for fighting.

One species has hooks on the end of its long bill. Another has sharp edges, serrated like some kitchen knives. Others are just stiff and sharply pointed. The sharp bills can pinch and poke a rival or pluck a feather.

A male hummingbird’s wings are even shaped a bit differently than a female’s to help them move quickly when they fight while flying.

While most hummers use their long bills to sip nectar from flowers, these weapon-like bills can’t be as good at eating. So the males will find different flowers to dine on than females. Some hummingbirds have beaks designed only to feed from one flower. In return for the nectar, the birds pollinate the flower so it can reproduce.

Other hummingbirds found in Montana include: the Anna’s; black-chinned; broad-tailed; Costa’s; ruby-throated and rufous. Most are found in the western part of the state. They all fly south to spend the winter.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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