Why Hawks In Your Yard Are A Good Sign For Hummingbirds

There are multiple benefits of attracting hummingbirds to your yard. But what do raptors have to do with this? On the surface, there's no apparent connection between the mighty hawks and the extremely colorful hummingbirds. But wildlife relationships are seldom straightforward. The hummers might not be the biggest bully on the playground, but they are incredibly smart. As such, they use raptors to protect their nests and eggs from predators like jays and squirrels. So if you have spotted hawks in your yard recently, it might help you attract more hummingbirds to your garden.

The most surprising part? The raptors don't generally feast on the hummers. This is not on principle or ceremony; the tiny birds just aren't big enough to satiate their hunger. Taking advantage of this phenomenon, hummingbirds build their nests near the formidable species to thwart attacks from jays. The hummers essentially practice the age old phrase "an enemy (hawk) of my enemy (Mexican jays) is my friend". So, although you might not be thrilled to have a cooper's hawk in your yard, they might incentivize hummingbirds into building their nest nearby. That being said, it's important to note that while hawks serve as unwitting bodyguards for the tiny avians' nests and keep their home and young ones safe from danger, there's no protection from predators hunting hawks. Additionally, if hawks abandon their nests, hummingbirds become fair game for the hunting jays.

Why do hummingbirds nest beneath hawk nests?

An international team of scientists researched the complex relationship to unearth relationship secrets between the black-chinned hummingbirds, northern goshawks, and Cooper's hawks. They set up shop at the Southwest Research Station, in the Chiricahua Mountains, located in southeastern Arizona to study 342 hummingbird nests. The "trait-mediated trophic cascade" phenomenon first published in the Science Advances journal reveals that hummers cluster their nests beneath hawks, with only 20% brave enough to not build their nests in the immediate vicinity of raptor nests. The study also revealed that the tiny species has a higher chance of reproductive success if the area serves as a hawk's home, too.

The heightened success can be attributed to a "jay-free cone," colloquially dubbed as the "cone of protection". To elaborate, hawks are known to hunt their prey from above and grab them in their powerful talons before flying away and making a snack of them. Since hummers nest beneath hawk nests to remain protected, jays have to adapt and fly above a raptor's nest to avoid becoming its meal of the day, effectively avoiding hummingbird nests in the process. In fact, hummer nests lying in the cone of safety (extending to about 170 meters wide) had a 31% daily survival rate as compared to 6% for the ones outside. Proximity matters, too. The closer the raptor nest; better the protection hummingbirds enjoy. So, sighting hawks in your yard might be beneficial for hummingbirds.