Feb 25 2014

Bluebird Fight

Published by at 7:20 am under Bird Behavior,Songbirds

Eastern bluebird fight (photo by Karen DeSantis)

We think of eastern bluebirds as gentle birds.  They seem to be poor fighters and often lose battles with house sparrows and starlings, so I was surprised to learn from Karen DeSantis that she witnessed two male eastern bluebirds in a long ferocious fight in late February a few years ago.

Karen described on PABIRDS how the fight began with chasing, then escalated into periodic knock downs and grim combat on the ground.  The males fluttered and rolled over a distance of about 30 feet while the female followed every move, twittering as she watched.  The birds were so oblivious that Karen was able to take photographs of the 15-minute battle.  Karen wrote, “It was the long duration of the fight that interested me the most.”

Though we might not realize it, these battles are consistent with bluebird behavior.

During the winter bluebirds flock in family groups and huddle together to stay warm.  In early spring their togetherness ends as the fathers eject their sons from the group before ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ nest again.

But the battle Karen witnessed was not a mild family squabble.  Its intensity indicates the guys were fighting over the lady.

Bluebirds are usually monogamous but about 20% of the young come from extra-pair copulations.  The males seem to know if their ladies’ eyes are wandering and guard their mates more closely if they’ve been messing around.  According to Birds of North America Online, “Experimental evaluations (Gowaty 1980) indicate male-male aggression most likely serves to protect threatened paternity. Males are aggressive to males usually in defense of paternity.”   These battles can be so intense that they end in the crippling or death of one of the birds.

Bluebirds may seem gentle but don’t mess with their mates!  Click on Karen’s photo above to watch a slideshow of the fight.


(photos by Karen DeSantis)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Bluebird Fight”

  1. Marcy Con 25 Feb 2014 at 2:05 pm

    I watched this happen in my yard too and finally I couldn’t stand it any more since one was PINNED to the ground and it was sounding deadly…I went and broke it up…my favorite bird and really showed an attitude, esp toward the nesting box…

  2. Karen DeSantison 26 Feb 2014 at 6:36 am

    Yes, in this fight they were pinned together barely moving. I thought for sure that death would be the result but eventually the offending bird flew off. Very interesting, Kate, thank you! Bird behavior is fascinating.

  3. Libby Strizzion 27 Feb 2014 at 8:40 am

    We had one of those battles in our lawn once. They looked like they were going to kill each other. (late) husband Dave went out and tried to get them to quit. He tried to break them up with his foot. They stopped, went to a tree trunk for a couple minutes, then back in the grass & resumed their battle. The female was watching just as Kate shows. Finally, the fight stopped, and there was a pair on our bluebird house. The loser male had flown off & the female claimed the winner. Unfortunately, it was the nasty male that won — I know that because he would divebomb us, and the other, nice one, never did.

  4. Maryon 21 Mar 2014 at 11:04 am

    We had two male bluebirds in a lengthy vicious fight. Another male bluebird was watching as was a mourning dove. I finally couldn’t stand it any more and went out to break it up. They flew off together. Today we have a male and female bluebird adding to a completed nest.

  5. Tomon 29 Mar 2014 at 11:54 am

    My wife and I watched as our female bluebird laid her fourth egg today, then a juvenile male entered the box and began attacking her. He eventually pulled her half way out of the box, fearing she would be hurt I then pulled the 3rd bird out of the box, the adult male was there as well but not fighting.

  6. Kate St. Johnon 30 Mar 2014 at 8:08 am

    Tom, that’s amazing.

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