The drama of hummingbirds and bees

Published 7:30 am Saturday, April 16, 2022

During my bird-watching days, I saw some things I never would have believed if I had not seen them with my own eyes. One day I noticed that bees were whizzing in and out of my blooming azalea bushes. As I watched, I knew they were sipping sweet nectar and then moving on to another blossom. I stepped a little closer to get a better look but retreated in a hurry when one of the busy insects zipped too close to my head on its way to a bloom. All that activity reminded me how bees looked fat and intoxicated after sampling another blooming plant in my yard.

For years my husband and I watched birds and wildlife in our backyard from our sun porch. We especially enjoyed the activities of beautiful but aggressive hummingbirds competing with each other for a place at the feeders. One day I noticed a bee buzzing around the yellow plastic blooms on the feeders. Those flowers encircle the tiny holes where the hummers poke their bills to draw out the sweet liquid that helps sustain them. A few minutes later, I saw a hummingbird fly close, but it did not stop to sample the sweet liquid inside. It appeared that the second it realized the bee was invading its territory. To my surprise, it flew away.

After a few seconds, I saw another hummingbird fly in and hover a few feet from the feeder. As it approached the feeder, a bee zipped toward the bird. Instead of giving it a big stab with its powerful little bill, the hummingbird retreated. To our amazement, the bee flew in pursuit of the bird for a short distance. I was amazed. What had happened? A tiny bee had bullied the hummingbird. I had to see that repeated before I convinced myself it had really happened. It did a few days later.

I learned something: both the hummingbird and the bee were persistent.

We couldn’t get to the sun porch quick enough after that to see what was going to happen next. The hummingbirds kept returning. So did the bees. I told myself the next time I bought a hummingbird feeder, I would check to see if it had a bee guard on it, if there was such a thing.

For years, two woodpecker feeders hung on my clothesline. They were attached by heavy cord. Sometimes my husband scratched up a short piece of wire to secure one of the feeders. Loaded with sunflower seed, the feeders attracted not only woodpeckers but titmice, chickadees, finches, and other birds.

Bold squirrels invited themselves to our yard to raid the feeders. We saw one squirrel hanging to both feeders at the same time.

Surely it frustrated them but they clung to the feeders and dug the seeds out of the little holes. That kind of treatment sometimes caused the feeders to fall to the ground. It was hard to believe the wily creatures untied the strings and unwound pieces of wire. Yet, the evidence was right there on the ground.

Sometimes those creatures stared at us, reminding us humans they had outwitted us.