Bluebird Fight

Eastern bluebird fight (photo by Karen DeSantis)
Eastern bluebird fight (photo by Karen DeSantis)

25 February 2014

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!  Watch a slideshow of the fight below.

(photos by Karen DeSantis)

22 thoughts on “Bluebird Fight

  1. 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…

    1. I also watched a battle like this but there seemed to be one blue bird that other blue birds battled. Sometimes 2 would attack one bird. It went on for a long time.

  2. 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. 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. 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. 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. I have the same situation. I assumed they were fighting over one of the houses I have on my property. I added another nest box in a different location. What can I do? Am I somehow responsible for this? In the winter I may have a dozen bluebirds at my heated bird bath. I’ve added bluebird boxes to my neighbor’s properties.

    The fight has been going on for 2 days now. I broke it up yesterday, but today, I guess I will let Mother Nature take its course. They won’t kill each other, will they?

  7. Yo’all stay away from my gal sal!! Thats why we blue birds get all blue because we continually worry about “Sal” our gal!!



  8. It’s not just the guys. I witnessed the same sort of fight y’all are reporting a couple of days ago. Two males going at it hard, rolling on the ground and scuffling while the female coached. There was no clear winner and they eventually went back to just swooping and threatening. And then… a second female showed up and the ladies wound up going at it while one of the males cheered them on (I had gotten my camera by then and have photos). All of this occurred in the vicinity of a nest box and given the pattern of their pre-scuffle aerials seemed to be related to the box, but there’s no evidence that a pair has taken possession yet.

  9. I saw two males fighting today…and it was a long one with much wrestling on the ground…however, no one was killed…i just let nature take its course although thought about breaking them up…they were very intense about going at it…when they would break off for awhile..they would continue as before…finally a guy on a lawnmower came by and they flew off. I also saw two male robins fighting this spring…never really witnessed such intense sparing before this year.

    1. My husband and I just witnessed two female bluebirds fighting under the bluebird house while the male watched from the roof of the BB house. This went on for some time until we were afraid they might harm each other. Never seen this before this year. My husband walked out and one flew away. The other one flew to the top of the bluebird house and flutter it’s wings in front of the male for a good while. Must have been really mad!

  10. My husband and I just witnessed two males going hard on the ground, then to tree an back again. Never have seen this before so we broke it up till they flew off.

  11. I’m so glad you posted this information. It is late Oct. and sitting on my porch there was a flutter of blue down to the ground. My first thought was it was bluebird dying, but realized was more than one bird. When I moved they flew off. I’ve only had chance to observe bluebirds for 15 years but had never seen this behavior. I learned something new today. Thanks!

  12. Over the last 3 days, have seen 3-5 males fighting at nesting box. One is the dominate male. All will perch on adjacent tree limbs- and atop my tripod mounted video camera! The dominate male will generally, but not always, allow the other males to look in the hole but, if they go in, he’ll fly in and chase them out. There is sporadic fighting in trees around the box but no ground fighting we have noticed. A female is rarely seen and has never been caught staying in the box for more than a minute or so.

    What puzzles me is that it is fall here in Tennessee ( daily temperatures in the 40s to 70s).

  13. Surprised by the number of people who say they intervened. I don’t like to see birds or other beings kill each other, but if they do there must be a reason. If it bothers you, stop watching.

  14. Now that I reread my comment it seems to imply that if humans kill each other and they have a reason it’s okay. What I meant is that we shouldn’t interfere with the mating behavior of other species.

  15. We watched a 15 minute battle at dusk yesterday. it was mostly airborne and non-stop. We only knew it ended when my little dog walked up with the loser in his mouth. I’m so curious about exactly how the death occurred.

  16. I have a second nesting and there are 4 eggs in the box. Yesterday I went to check box to see if the eggs hatched yet and I found there had been a fight…dead male on the ground and lots of feathers all around and stuck to underside of roof on outside of house. Eggs are still there and there is still a male and female hanging around in yard, along with 3 fledglings which the father is still feeding. Female acting a bit crazy…going after fledglings and Papa when they try to eat worms. Both parents check the box with eggs, but won’t go in…wondering if they are abandoning because of fight? Parent are also checking other box I have like they are going to build a different nest? We removed dead bird and wiped of feathers on the box hoping she will go back in and take care of. Anyone have an idea of what is going on, and what I should do?

  17. A male blue bird hit our window and died. He put the e dead bird out in the field and a male came by started picking at it and eating it. Is this normal?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *