Carl Wernicke: When The Hummingbirds Stop By For A Snack

Sep 26, 2019

Credit Carl Wernicke

What do you do about a hummingbird with a bad attitude? Now, that’s not as strange a problem as it sounds.

Hummingbirds are known as the bad boys of the bird world. They can be very aggressive with each other. I was told once by a ranger at a nature preserve that he had watched two hummingbirds fight until they fell, exhausted, into the dirt where they resumed the struggle.

Now, to us they are tiny, but size is relative, and there are bigger hummers and smaller ones. And there are bullies.  This spring we noticed the sudden appearance of a hummingbird in our backyard. We put out a feeder, and it quickly found it. It fed regularly for about 10 days, and then moved on. We cleaned the feeder and put it away, awaiting the fall migration. Then, recently, we saw a hummingbird flitting about where the feeder had been, which made me think it was the same one.

Or maybe they just know that the wingless creatures living in the big caves always hang the feeders under an eave. Or maybe they think the big, sweet-tasting flowers naturally grow there.  So we put the feeder back up, and the bird quickly found it, feeding morning, noon and late afternoon.  Then, several more appeared, and the trouble began. The first guy made it clear he did not intend to share. He alternated between sipping nectar and aggressively assaulting any other hummer that tried to get some. This went on for hours, then days. While he was chasing one away, another would land on the feeder, at which he point he’d zip back and chase it off. He would chase several at once, zoom around the back yard a few times, and return for a sip or just to hover, waiting for the next interloper to appear. This was quite entertaining.

We turned our chairs in the living room around so we could watch through the window, and I kept my binoculars handy. In the mornings we’d eat breakfast on the porch to watch the show.  But just as I began to think he was going to exhaust himself, he changed tactics. He started roosting on the feeder, and just wouldn’t leave. I mean he sat there all day.  And now this began to irritate me. As I said, it was just a really bad attitude. As a dedicated bird feeder, I felt bad for the other hummers, who could barely grab a sip for themselves. These guys are small, and it would take him weeks to finish even a small amount of nectar, yet he was determined not to share. He would be there as dusk came on, and he’d be back at first light. He’d just sit there, all day, looking around, and if another hummer showed up he’d drive it off and return to his seat, content in the comfort of having it all for himself.

Our grandchildren quickly became captivated by the aerial show, but one day our grandson turned to my wife and said, “Grammy, he needs to learn how to share.” He did.  So, we hung another feeder. I don’t know if he was happy to have his, or if defending two was more turf than he could handle. Anyway, now we get to see three or four different hummingbirds doing their aerial acrobatics, and everyone seems happy.