Monday, September 28, 2009

Feeding the Birds--Hummingbird Don't Fly Away

We’ve been feeding hummingbirds on our balcony for about 4 years now. For some reason, they’ve gotten a lot more interesting the last month or so.

We’re used to these miniscule critters zooming up to the feeder, spreading their tail feathers at the last second and putting the brakes on to a hover right at their perch. And we’re used to watching the dominant male try to protect the feeder and keep any other bird except himself from getting access.

There’s a social dynamic at play. And right now I can hear about the 23rd squabble of the day of several hummies arguing over who gets to sit where.

Lately we’ve had a couple of interesting dominant males. First was Squatter. (We tend to try to give the ones we can identify interesting or descriptive names which have ranged from Durante to Miss Peeps to Butthead). Squatter seemed to think that the feeder belonged to him and him alone. The only time this changed was one day when a Rufous hummingbird (the smallest but most aggressive) came by and spent about an hour kicking his ass!

He would hang out and chase any and all other hummies away. He would grip the wire holding the feeder and keep a watch out pretty much all day—changing position seemingly to keep his legs from getting too tired. He wasn't all that bright though. He was clever enough to find a nail sticking out of a rafter and perch on it but, whenever he'd leave it to "guard" the feeder, he wouldn't be able to find it again. Any hummie that came by got chased away and suddenly there was little nectar being drunk. This went on for over a month and we got to the point where we were really hoping for him to move on.

And after him there was Bomber. Bomber was cool. He would do exactly what his name implies. He would sit on a phone wire about 40 feet away from the feeder and wait. As soon as 3 hummies sat on the perches (not 2 or 4 but 3) he’d launch himself. He’d zoom full speed at the feeder and put the brakes on the last couple of feet scattering the feeding hummies. I watched him do the same thing dozens of times. It was like watching a bowling ball going down the alley and smacking dead solid into the 1-3 pocket exploding pins in all different directions (OK, get that sound going in your head! That’s what always went through mine whenever he’d do that).

It seemed as though he loved doing that. Then he’d chase the birds away. Sometimes the birds would get smart and wait for him to chase the others away and sneak back for a quick chug-a-lug until he reversed course and smacked into the lone hold-out. And, as the photo shows, he also got so he liked to sit on the top of a succulent plant just a couple of feet from the feeder waiting for the dumb birds to try to land on the feeder and drink. Then he only had to fly 2 feet rather than 40.

Bomber only lasted a couple of weeks. Now we’ve got a new bunch. This is the most raucous, obnoxious group of birds yet. They’re incredibly entertaining—and thirsty. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant male so chaos rules the day. And, they’re greedy!

There have been times when it would take 3-4 days for the birds to empty a feeder. We know they’re hungry and that there’s a bunch of them if they empty it in 1 day. Lately they’ve been emptying it twice a day! That’s mainly because there’s 8 birds around and no one’s trying to hog the feeder and chase the rest away.

We’ve got what we call the “follies” every evening right at sundown. That’s when all the birds try to get their last “feeding” of the day. When Squatter and Bomber were around, they’d try to keep the other birds away even during the follies. The best follies we’ve ever had was one night with 10 birds zooming around the 4-perch feeder and the same night when there were actually 7 birds sitting at the feeder at once (yep, 3 of the perches had 2 birds each).

Now, we’re getting the follies pretty much all day long where there are anywhere from 6-8 birds hovering around—rotating around the feeder like it’s some kind of merry-go-round. These little critters are slurping, pooping machines. And they’re incredibly fun to watch.

A sociologist might have a great time trying to make sense of the dynamic of these birds. I love it when the females decide to fight back against the dominant male. Or when a 2nd male decides he wants to be the ruler. They’ll fight, slapping each other with their wings, pecking their long beaks at each other and sometimes tumble all the way to the ground. A lot of the time they’re more entertaining than anything on TV.

But, I have to go now. It’s 10:30 a.m. and there’s less than a half inch of nectar left so I have to make some more or else they’ll be mad and chewing me out. By the way, if you want to feed hummies, get a feeder with perches for them to sit—they cost less than $10. And, the “Cheap Bastid” recipe for the nectar is ¼ cup of sugar to 1 cup of water plus you can add a drop or so of food color if you want.

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