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Ecuador’s angry hummingbirds refuse to evolve 

In a canyon below the cloud forests of Mindo, Ecuador, I watched five kinds of hummingbirds compete for sugar water from a hotel feeder.

I marveled at their aerobatics, diving and buzz-bombing each other, dismissing the laws of physics as mere suggestions, until I realized that they were only feeding about 20% of the time. The rest of the time the feeder stations dangled unattended while the birds spent their energy chasing each other away.

Most of their activity, while technically beautiful,  was completely unproductive. Occasional moments of cooperation within or across species quickly degraded into spectacular air battles.

That’s my nectar.

I recognized the problem immediately. These angry birds were engaging in classic lose-lose behavior arising from a scarcity mentality. I could almost hear them clicking, “If I can’t have the nectar, no one will!”

“Hummingbirds!” I cried out, invoking my many years of experience in managing projects and resolving organizational conflicts, “what if I told you there was no resource limitation? That by cooperating you could get more nectar than that by competing?”

Crickets. The birds kept right on playing chicken, strafing and destabilizing each other.  How was survival of the fittest served by an environment of excessive wing beats and mutually assured destruction? What could be gained from fighting over an infinite source of nectar? This had to be a detail evolution had missed.

No, it’s all mine.

None were interested in the obvious breakthrough offered by my win-win thinking and an abundance mentality. I tried again in Spanish, “If you start cooperating instead of fighting, there will be more than enough nectar for everyone. You can reduce your frantic heart rates and enjoy more leisure time!”

Nada. I was preaching to the wind. Not one bird was interested in the benefits of cooperation or team building. While the hummers burned precious energy fighting over a free and renewable resource, a small yellow bananaquit took advantage of the commotion to gorge at the feeder. The bananaquit winked at me. He knew the hummingbirds were too busy fighting with each other to recognize their true competition.

4 thoughts on “Ecuador’s angry hummingbirds refuse to evolve 

  1. These must be those migratory humming birds. They spend some time in Washington DC. Learned behaviour.

  2. Lovely article. Your perspective is right in. However to prove your hypothesis I will try both Spanish and English at my three widely space feeder. On occasion an enterprising hummer will disengage from the battle, fly to the most distant feeder and engorge until such miscreant behavior is discovered. All that changes is the battle ground. Back to my coffee, morning paper and aerial observations!

  3. The headline misconstrues. And the first sentence hitconstrues, albeit accidentally & unbeknownst.

    Competition is the engine of evolution. Or “evolution” – since that put paid (in many minds) concept misconstrues, too. Progress is a surer toehold word (than evolution).

    Now for the cherry on top that’ll split many a banana right down the lengthwise middle: competition is cooperation.

    The menschless penchant that strives to do away with competition, the engine of progress, is motivated by a desire to make cooperation superfluous. Welcome to the bureaucracy. Makework & cumbayah & s’mores round the campfire for everybody, aka ‘resistance is futile.’

    Its couch potatoes en-borg’d heckling, & “voting” (a synonym), the resistance trainers to put down those barbells. But underneath that treacle cumbayah toon plays the mostly more accurate, descriptive, lyric.

    If humans made as much use of those big brains as the birdbrains do of theirs, the sky’d be the limit, instead of the thing that falls, is made to fall — of the big brains, by the big brains, for the big brains – on the big brains.

    Mock aerial combat – first word is key. Mock. For the exercise.

    Compare that to these descriptions of Chinese skyfall (in “competition” with USkyfall). And try to get bigbrain around bigbird compulsion to subvert – & “ideally” utterly destroy – competition via force. That’s what all bully cowards enpulpited is about. I lovelaugh out loud Vidal’s description of teddy bear Roosevelt: give a sissy a gun & he will kill everything in sight. Also like the ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ rhyme. But Ali was a hummer.

    Competition builds the teams. Continuously. No one & done as the borgbureaus would have it in their wet the bed dreams. And not fakefood marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, either.

    Hummer lover here. Thanks for the exercise.

  4. I have 19 hummingbird feeders on my terraces. I’m no expert on hummers or any other birds, I just love watching them. So do my cats. I have certainly noted their territoriality, but they seem to evolve over time. Several years back, I had what appeared to be a mating pair that watched over their brood, with mama on one end and dad on the other, each guarding their own individual feeder. The kids were free to share the three feeders between mom and dad and you knew which bird was which based on where they took up their station for the day. It was nice, but they are long gone.

    I hope someone that is an expert on the birds can tell me this; I have never had more than 2 kinds of hummers show up at my feeders in over 10 years. I get tons of the common iridescent green ones, and a sprinkling of the tiny ones that are brown and white, but that’s about it. I live in the Zona Rosa and am wondering if any of you get different varieties of hummers?

    BTW, I just purchased 4 new feeders at Coral for $4.53 each. They are the same feeders that the fancy story on Ordóñez Lasso tried to sell for $35. The are all out right now but they say they will have more on Saturday morning.

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