Data Reveals Secret Bird Feeder Power Ranking

All that commotion is actually organized chaos.

Anyone with a bird feeder knows the drama they can bring to even the most peaceful of backyards. And while dinnertime might look like chaos, data has shown that bird feeder dynamics are the result of a clear social hierarchy among the species that frequent them.

According to a recent report by The Washington Post, there is, quite literally, a bird feeder pecking order.

Chaos at the Bird Feeder
Karen Hogan / Getty Images

Since 1987, backyard birders participating in Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch have reported the species they saw at their feeders during the winter. The project's 30,000 citizen-scientists were given the ability to report on interactions between the feeding birds in 2016.

Ornithologists used the crowdsourced data from nearly 100,000 bird interactions to decode the birds' secret pecking order. And in this "continent-wide power ranking" of almost 200 species, the wild turkey proved most aggressive. When it comes to the most common feeder visitors, however, the American crow reigns supreme. The tiny chickadee occupied the bottom portions of both lists.

"You see it at your feeder, and you're like, 'Oh, that woodpecker? He's a mean one!' and you ascribe these individual preferences to birds at your feeder," Cornell University ornithologist Eliot Miller told the Post. "But if you zoom out, all these same interactions are happening millions of times in cities across the continent, and the way they play out is predictable."

Body mass is generally a good indicator of dominance, except when it comes to woodpeckers, Miller noted.

"They punch above their weight because they spend their lives hammering on trees," he told the paper. "Their entire morphology is built to enable striking hard objects. So, another bird is really not an issue for them."

It's worth noting that the data does not include interactions involving squirrels—Grumpy's sworn enemies and the creatures experts identify as the true rulers of the bird feeder.

"Birds are made to fly—they're light," Miller explained to the Post. "Squirrels just are way bigger, way freakier. They've got teeth. They've got claws. A bird is not going to take any chances near a squirrel. Squirrels will eat a bird no problem."

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