Which Birds Are the Biggest Jerks At the Feeder?



The interactions between birds in the park or at your backyard feeder may look like chaos, but they’re actually following the subtle rules of a hidden avian social order. Armed with a database of almost 100,000 bird interactions, experts known as ornithologists have decoded that secret pecking order and created a worldwide power ranking of almost 200 species — from the formidable wild turkey at the top to the tiny brown creeper at the bottom. Among the most common feeder visitors, the American crow is king, while tiny chickadees get pushed around by just about everybody. Every year since 1987, thousands of backyard birders from around the U.S. and Canada have reported what they’ve seen at their feeders. They have been able to report interactions, such as when one bird swoops in and chases another from a prime spot on the seed feeder. Most interactions between birds end in a quick retreat, not combat. A widely recognized hierarchy helps birds avoid what could be very costly fights. Body mass is generally a good predictor of bird dominance, but woodpeckers dominate even some birds that outweigh them. The database didn’t include interactions beyond the bird world, but if it had, experts say the data would have revealed the true king of the bird feeder: squirrels.