How South American Male Hummingbirds Use Their Evolved Beaks as Swords to Attack Their Rivals

In a surprising episode of The New York Times series Science Take, host James Gorman talks about the dangerous side of hummingbirds. While this species often gets along with one another or becomes very demanding of their favorite humans, a certain group of South American male hummingbirds can become downright violent especially when it comes to food. According to a paper by humming bird expert Alejandro Rico-Guevara, these birds have distinctly evolved beaks that they effectively use as swords to attack rivals of any sort.

In the South American tropics, where hummingbirds must compete for food, evolution has drastically reshaped their bills. They are thicker and more rigid, often with a hook on the end. In some cases, they have jagged points, like rows of teeth — all the better for fighting off rivals! …The males use their bills to stab other males, and to fence — feinting and parrying, sometimes knocking the other bird off a perch. Some hummingbirds even have hooked beaks, with serrations that look like shark’s teeth.