Keeping The Hummingbirds Happy Is A Tough Job

Oct 17, 2019

Credit IHMC

I have to issue a retraction. Recently in this radio spot I reported that I had cleverly solved a hummingbird fight over a feeder in my backyard by the brilliant solution of hanging a second feeder. 

A hummingbird bully was preventing others from sipping nectar from the original feeder, which the bully bird had taken ownership of. He had taken to simply sitting on the feeder, all day, taking flight only to repel any hummingbird that tried to take a drink. I figured that hanging a second feeder would either give him too much turf to defend, or else he would be satisfied since he would still have his own feeder.

For a day or two, this actually seemed to work. He remained at his feeder, while several other hummingbirds emerged to use the other one. But alas, the bully soon soured on this situation, and energetically took up defense of both feeders. What had been a limited scuffle became a full-fledged backyard brawl. At this point we had five to seven hummingbirds engaged in multiple skirmishes across our backyard. I say five to seven, because when hummingbirds are furiously zipping around the yard, engaged in multiple aerial fights, its hard to get an accurate count.

Meanwhile, more bullies emerged. At one point, while the original bully was defending the original feeder, another hummer, in like fashion, was defending the second one, which I had moved to a new location well away from the first feeder.  Moving it was my second brilliant attempt to defuse the situation. But it merely expanded the battlefield. Over time a general sense of weariness seems to offer some hope. Perhaps because of a full belly, the bully birds would at times watch another hummer feed from the same feeder, at least briefly, before chasing it away. And with so many birds vying for spots at the feeders, as the bullies are chasing one hummer into the next yard, a different bird will zip up to one of the feeders and grab a sip.

This does end in another aerial chase when the first hummer returns, only to see a different bird slip in for a sip. Anyway, they are still fighting. And, yes, it’s pretty entertaining. But with two feeders out, spaced well apart, there seems to be a general agreement developing among the combatants that everyone is going to get a taste. The resulting conflicts seem increasingly pro forma, and the constant refills needed for the feeders indicate a lot of nectar is being consumed. Anyway, I wanted to correct the record. And for the record, let me just say that trying to outwit small animals is definitely not for the faint of heart.