Hummingbird Wars in Texas


Hummingbird Facts

Information About Hummingbirds. Yes, it is the annual battle of the hummingbirds here in north Texas. Late August through September brings swarms of migrating hummingbirds to the feeders, each hummingbird claiming a feeder of its own for few days before moving on down south. This time of year, my yard becomes a war zone between hummingbirds as well as against yellow jackets and bees!

Hummingbirds are very territorial and will jealously guard “their” feeder from all other hummers who want a sip of the sweet nectar. Although my many feeders are spread quite a bit apart so more hummingbirds can feed in peace, there appears to be a Ruby-throated female that is determined to defend three feeders. As she squeaks and zips over to a feeder that another hummingbird dared to approach, other hummingbirds converge on the feeder she just left, sneaking some nectar while she is away. She will viciously fly straight for the intruder, sometimes even flying right into them, chasing him away. She’ll perch on top of pole from which the feeder hangs, looking around as if to say, “See? I got him and I’ll get you if you try anything stupid like trying to get some of my nectar.” From dawn to dusk, she’ll bully the other hummers. Clearly, this lil’ lady is a hummer with an attitude!

Hummingbirds do not sing but do have a series of squeaky or clacking noises in addition to the whistles that some hummer species make. Plus there’s the whirl of hummingbirds’ fast little wings as they zip past your head, making that humming noise for whence they’re named. These birds live only in North, Central and South America as well the Caribbean. In the eastern part of North America, usually on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are present. But if you travel westward, you’ll be dazzled by a greater number of species including the Rufous, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Calliope, Anna’s, Costa’s as well as others. If you’re in the mood to travel to Central or South America, there are over 300 species of hummingbirds!

Three years ago, I planted bird-friendly gardens, shrubs and trees. I truly believe that the increase in hummingbirds I’ve seen in my yard over the last few years is due to the increased amount of cover. I always had out the feeders as well as grew lots of nectar-rich flowers. But now I have lots of leafy cover. Huge wisteria climb over posts and arbors in several parts of the yard, giving the hummingbirds a green jungle to perch and rest. Another favorite area is the Chaste Tree. It is a small ornamental tree with spikes of violet flowers, similar to a Butterfly Bush. The hummingbirds and butterflies love it. Near the corner of the deck is an enormous crepe myrtle that is also a hummingbird magnet. Its pink flowers do not contain nectar but the tree is dense, giving shade as well as place to nest in the spring. Crepe myrtles seem to attract the tiny insects that hummingbirds eat for protein. This is the tree where my female hummer with an attitude loves to perch, surveying her kingdom.

But all is not well in her kingdom. August and September in Texas bring 100 degree heat and sometimes drought conditions. The weather browns and dries up many of the wildflowers where the bees and yellow jackets normally feed. So the battles of the bees and hummingbirds begin. The crepe myrtle as well as many of the flowers I plant for the birds and butterflies attract honey bees, bumble bees, as well as yellow jackets. If these creatures stayed on the flowers, I would have no issue with them. However, all three have discovered the hummingbird feeders, to the dismay of the hummers.

Bees and yellow jackets are more than just a nuisance to hummingbirds. They will swarm around the feeders, sometimes completely covering it, not allowing the hummingbirds to feed. If there are just a few bees, the hummingbirds may try to chase them off.

Do you have bothersome bees? What can you do to help the hummingbirds?

Here are some suggestions:
Make sure the feeders do not drip, luring bees to the feeders by the leaks.
Rinse the feeders, making sure there is no nectar on the outside of the feeders.
In my experience, any yellow part of the feeder attracts more bees. I paint any yellow parts of the feeders (except plastic mesh bee guards) with red nail polish. Once it is dry, wash the painted part thoroughly and then use the feeder as normal. Some people do not see a decrease in bees by using all red parts but it seems to work for me.
Lure the bees away from the feeders with their own nectar. Get a large shallow bowl or clay saucer. Put some washed pebbles or gravel in the bottom. Mix up a very sweet mixture of sugar water and pour it over the rocks or gravel. This nectar can be equal amounts of sugar and water. You want it sweeter than the hummingbird nectar (that is made at a 4:1 ratio.) Place the bowl or saucer of super sweet nectar in a part of your yard, away from the hummingbird feeders. If the bees don’t notice it fairly quickly, then place it half way between the feeder and the ultimate spot you want the bee feeder. Then move it gradually each day towards the spot you want the bees. Of course, if you have children or outdoor pets who may want a taste of this nectar also, keep it up out of reach of them so they do not get stung.

As a last ditch effort, get out your shop vacuum and suck up those bees and yellow jackets. No, this is not a very friendly gesture for the bees but if you have a long extension to the hose, you can quickly rid a feeder of the intruders. Long extension tubes make the vacuuming of bees and hornets less risky but be careful! Vacuum only enough bees to give the hummingbirds a chance. Once they are in your vacuum, you can release them in an area where they will not bother your Hummingbirds.

The Hummingbird is a great subject for bird watching because they are so active and busy. If you are into birdwatching, set out some Hummingbird feeders and enjoy the show.

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