Many, if not most, of our birds are monogamous, like the Curve-billed Thrasher. Happily mated for life, these birds work together. They build their nests jointly, hang out together and share parental responsibilities, like incubating their eggs, feeding and fledging their young. They don’t flirt, let alone mess around. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, are a bold-faced exception. If men could be reincarnated as birds, hummers would likely be a popular choice. No sharing of parental responsibilities in this bird family, and in fact there is no sharing of anything other than sex when it comes to hummingbirds. Female hummingbirds shoulder the entire burden of child-rearing. They alone search the neighborhood for a nesting site, shop the hardware stores for lint, hair and spider web and build the nest single-handed. They lay their eggs unattended, have to fend for their own food, incubate the eggs and feed the hungry young. When it comes time to teach the new hummingbirds how to leave the nest, fly backwards and forage for food, it’s the mom’s job, all by her lonesome. Talk about single parenting.
And where is dad throughout these trying times? Well, he’s hanging out with the guys over at the local nectar bar. When female hummingbirds are working their tails off looking for nesting sites, the males are bar-hopping, finding the best feeders or flowers in town and doing their best to keep them to themselves. Males will stake out the biggest territory they think they can defend, and then spend as much time fighting with other birds as drinking. While the females shun makeup, slave over nest-building and deal with demanding kids, the males get gussied up like rival combatants. Costa’s don a purple uniform, Anna’s favor British red and Broad-billed outshine everyone with iridescent blue. Then it’s off to the nearest sugar-watering hole to pick fights and hog the bar stools.
Although males aggressively chase off most feeding competitors, in breeding season they make an exception for hungry females. Female hummingbirds are welcomed to male feeding territories with open wings, and the more, the merrier. Showing their one and only generous side, males make room at the bar and pick up the tab for every lady hummer crazy enough to wander in. But, of course, there’s a price. No free lunch for the ladies, and no sweet talk or long term relationships, either. A little nectar, a lot of sex, and then it’s ‘hasta la vista, baby’ when an old flame or a young chick buzzes in. Male hummingbirds are the high school jock, Casanova and silver-tongued devil rolled into one. For these guys, two partners are better than one and four better than two. These playboys of the bird world have everything but big-screen football, Schwarzenegger movies and a golf club membership.