In nature, sometimes it’s a good thing to have a scary neighbor. According to new research, a hummingbird species stands a greater chance at protecting their eggs when they live beneath hawk nests.
Living in the shadow of a predator capable of eating you may seem hazardous, but a team of researchers discovered that the black-chinned hummingbirds species in Arizona were actually much safer when raising their young in close proximity to hawks.
The three-year study analyzed hundreds of hummingbird nests located below hawk nests in the Chiricahua Mountains, and discovered that nests located next to the hawks were 80 percent less likely to have their eggs eaten by Mexican jays.
Researchers believe that the Cooper hawks and goshawks involved in the study prey on jays near their nests, but don’t target hummingbirds, as they are too small and fast to capture. With jays avoiding the raptors nests, hummingbirds were therefore granted a “cone of protection” in the trees where hawks resided.
Of 342 hummingbird nest studied by scientists, only 20 were found outside this cone of protection. Hummingbirds that built their nests closest to the hawk’s nests also tended to have the highest egg survival rate. The researchers don’t believe the hummingbirds understand they’re being protected from above, but simply abandon nests that are targeted by other birds and return to areas where they were more successful at raising their young.
However, researchers noted that the hummingbird’s guardian may not always stick around. The paper states that coatis, a raccoon relative, will often climb trees and eat hawk eggs, forcing the raptors to abandon their nests and leave the hummingbirds beneath them exposed to predators.