One spring morning I was sitting outside watching robins eat worms on the lawn when suddenly the birds all started fighting like an angry mob.
After a brief burst of flapping wings and loud chirping sounds, they suddenly calmed back down and everything returned to normal.
If you’ve ever seen birds fighting like this, you might wonder why they get so crazy and aggressive.
- What does it mean?
- Why do they attack each other?
- And do they actually hurt each other?
Like all wild animals, birds sometimes have to stand up for themselves in order to get what they need for survival.
So today let’s explore this interesting behavior and gain some deeper insight into what’s happening when birds fight…
Why Are Birds So Aggressive Towards Each Other?
Birds fight because they have to compete over limited resources for survival like food, nest sites & mating partners.
This is just a normal part of life as territorial animals.
However, there are a few important points about aggressive bird behavior that will help us better understand what’s happening and why:
- Fighting is primarily done by the male birds
- Fights happen primarily between members of the same species
- Most aggressive behavior happens during spring
This means it’s not just that all birds are inherently territorial towards other birds.
In fact, most birds are actually quite happy living close to other species.
A robin is happy with a sparrow, but won’t tolerate other robins during times of courtship and nesting. This is because the sparrow occupies a different niche in the environment.
Robins and sparrows don’t compete with each other on things like diet & nest sites, so there’s actually an advantage to having each other around (which we’ll discuss in the later section on nest robbers).
You might also enjoy a related article discussing crow territorial behavior.
What Does It Mean When Birds Fight?
When you see birds fighting, it’s usually a good sign the spring nesting season is quickly approaching. It means there are male birds with territorial boundaries protecting their nests & mates.
While territorial behavior can occur in less obvious ways at all times of year, birds are most likely to fight during peak times of courtship and nesting.
This happens because there is an urgent window of opportunity to raise young during the abundant time of food & warm weather before winter arrives.
On a biological level, the increase in sunlight during spring causes a flurry of hormones & the urge to procreate.
These hormonal changes increase the territorial and aggressive instinct to protect their interests from others who might try to steal or hurt their chances of success.
Do Birds Fight When They Mate?
Mating is a very different behavior from fighting. It looks like a brief flutter of wings as the male calmly mounts the female and then perches beside her.
Mating birds have a much more subtle & quiet behavior compared to fighting. Here are several major differences to notice:
- Mating happens between a male & a female
- Birds don’t make much noise when they mate
- The female doesn’t try to escape
These are all quite opposite to the territorial aggression and fighting behaviors most commonly observed.
As discussed before, fighting activity is typically a male-to-male behavior. So if you can identify male vs female birds, it’s easy to tell mating from fighting.
Additionally, when male birds are fighting with, there is typically a lot more noise, movement & urgency as they chase each other away.
The dominant bird may complete the battle with a vigorous song from his perch.
Mating also occurs in the morning hours so the female has time to lay her eggs, while male birds will fight at all times of day.
With a bit of practice looking for these signs, you’ll quickly get the hang of how to tell the difference.
Do Birds Fight To The Death?
While it is possible for injuries to occur during fights between songbirds, aggressive behavior is really more about posturing and proving their dominance without putting themselves in actual danger.
It’s very dangerous for birds to actually engage in physical conflict. If they weaken themselves during fights, it could make them more vulnerable to predation.
For this reason, birds only go as far as required to prove their assertiveness without putting themselves in actual danger.
Birds already have enough issues to deal with from hawks, cats & nest robbers, and speaking of nest robbers…
Aggression Towards Nest Robbers
An entirely different yet similar aggressive behavior in birds happens when they encounter a nest robber entering their territory.
Birds will commonly attack nest robbers like Crows, Ravens, Jays & Magpies who enter their territory to try and steal eggs.
This is one situation where birds actually benefit from having other non-competitive species living nearby.
When a nest robber is prowling nearby, birds will gather around and mob the intruder to distract, annoy & eventually chase them away before any nests are found.
This is a highly aggressive behavior, that can actually be much more long-lasting and intense than the typical male-to-male aggression.
However, just like territorial fights, bird alarm responses to nest robbers typically do not escalate to the point of actual contact.
Can You Stop Birds From Fighting?
As much as we may not like the idea of birds fighting, it is a perfectly natural part of their life cycle.
Fighting over boundaries helps to ensure that the strongest genetics continue in the species.
And you can rest assured that in the vast majority of cases, they’re not going to actually hurt themselves.
There really isn’t anything you can do to stop birds from fighting, so my recommendation is to simply observe without judgement!
Use this as a learning opportunity. You can learn an incredible amount about birds from observing the conditions, times & locations where they fight.
These territorial behaviors can help you gain insight into what stage of nesting the birds are currently experiencing.
Territorial aggression can help you find the locations of nests and gain a better sense for their territorial boundaries.
You’ll notice birds are often more aggressive around areas of concentrated resources like food or nest sites.
With an attitude of observant awareness, the birds will tell you everything you need to understand their lives.
How To Understand Birds
If you want to understand birds, the most important thing is to practice watching & observing sequences of behavior.
I’ve been mentoring beginner bird lovers for enough years to see some fairly common mistakes that really slow the learning process.
By far, one of the most common mistakes is not giving enough time to simply observe when you see a bird doing interesting behavior.
Snap judgements are much less likely to be accurate, and often miss the bigger picture which emerges from catching the complete story.
So next time you see birds fighting, I encourage you to slow down! Just take a few minutes to stop and really observe what’s happening.
- Can you identify the birds involved?
- Are you seeing male birds? Are there females nearby?
- What resources are here for them to protect? (food, nest sites, etc)
- Can you hear birds singing?
- Are you seeing birds chasing each other?
- How much noise are they making?
- Is the behavior repeating in a rhythmic manner over a period of time?
- Where do the birds retreat to after the fight is done?
These are all different facets of bird behavior that relate back to territorial fighting & aggressive activity.
There’s so much more to explore than what’s apparent on the surface, so keep looking closer and let me know what you discover!
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