August 12, 2012

A Big Fat Thief

Lately I have had to fill the hummingbird feeder every two or three days. It is being drained dry.

Jim caught this little hummer having breakfast earlier this summer

I see the little ruby throated hummers, both the male with his red collar and the plainer female, at the feeder many times a day, all day long, but I was amazed at how much they were consuming this summer.

In other years they fed often, but the sugar water lasted a week or more.  I would refill it every 5 days to freshen it, but the feeder was never empty when I did.

Why were they consuming so much this year?

Then I saw the culprit. A downy woodpecker has been monopolizing the sugar feeder.

Look what my neighbor caught one recent morning

This picture was taken by my neighbor at her feeder next door. I suspect the woodpecker that she caught on camera is the very same one that is draining my feeder.

How does he even get at the sugar water? My neighbor's feeder and mine both have the yellow plastic baffles that only allow the tiny, long tongue of a hummingbird to get in there. I usually flap about and scare the big fat woodpecker away when I see him, so I haven't studied how he gets at the sugar water.

Have you seen woodpeckers feed at hummingbird stations before?

What a thief.

33 comments:

  1. Yes. I have also seen Baltimore Orioles at these feeders. The woodpeckers have long tongues and can slurp it up. :) I think this is great.

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    1. Lisa, I didn't know about the long tongues on woodpeckers -- just the rat a tat noise they make drilling on my gutters at 6 a.m. !!

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  2. Oh, what a good point, a long tongue for licking out ants could lick into the feeder - I wonder if they started eating ants off the feeder and developed a taste for sugar? Or maybe want the liquid in the dry weather? How strange. I've never heard of that before.

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    1. Plantingoaks, I guess the talents that let them get at hidden insects inside tree bark lets woodpeckers get into the hummer feeders too. I didn't know they wanted the sugar.

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  3. That's an interesting sight. You would think they were too big for the feeder.

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    1. Gardener on Sherlock, they certainly look too big, hanging off the feeder. Mine is a smaller feeder than my neighbor's and the big woodpecker looks ridiculous hanging upside down clinging to it!

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  4. What a clever bird!! I admire his resourcefulness. I'd let him have his fill and would stock up on cheap-o store brand beet sugar. :o)

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    1. Tammy, I can't keep him from filling up at the hummer station, so I just keep refilling it. The hummingbirds get enough, it seems, and they do have my garden full of flower treats that they visit too.

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  5. Hmmm, another reason not to hang a feeder. I do see a lot of hungry hummers making multiple visits to the blossoms, though. Good detective work, Laurrie.

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    1. Lee, the hummers here do make the rounds of my garden plants too. They love the salvia and cardinal flower, and flit between the feeder and the gardens all day, keeping very very busy.

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  6. I have not! That is a first for me! What a stinker!

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    1. Garden Diaries, yes, he really is a big fat stinker : )

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  7. It must be a very clever woodpecker!

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    1. Friend of HK, he is not only clever, but very bold and aggressive!

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  8. Aha! Caught in the act! No hummingbird feeders here. I tried them a few years ago but the birds shunned them for the natural fare. Instead I plant lots of tender Salvias and other annuals that bloom well into the fall so the migrators have a rest stop as well.

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    1. Sue, these hummers do both, they make rounds between the cardinal flowers and the feeder and seem to like both. I'll need to make sure I have flowers for migration time as well as the feeder this fall.

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  9. This is a first for me! The only intruders I've ever seen on the hummingbird feeders have been ants, who always seem to find a way to climb up the poles holding the feeders.

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    1. Rose, I had ants on the feeders until I discovered one simple trick. I paint a band of sticky Tree Tanglefoot on the pole that holds the feeder, and the ants can't cross it. Vaseline is too soft and washes away, the Tanglefoot is nasty sticky and works. You don't need much.

      http://www.amazon.com/Tanglefoot-300000684-Tree-15-Tub/dp/B000BWY3AA

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  10. Well, woodpeckers have to eat too!! My yard has been bereft of hummers( and most other birds ) this summer. We have a feral cat who has been stalking birds here since the spring. I am saddened and miss my feathered friends but am not sure how to discourage the cat. Tried red pepper, throwing rocks at him, shoot him with water etc. Nothing works. Any suggestions?

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    1. Barbara, that's too bad about the stalking cat. Lee May is trying rosemary in pots around a birdbath to discourage his cat. He got the idea from another blogger who said the cats don't like the strongly fragrant rosemary at all, and don't hang out where it is. You could try some around a feeder, or even at the edge of the gardens where he stalks the most. Worth a try.

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    2. Thanks for the suggestion. I did not know that cats dislike the scent of rosemary. Love your blog!!

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  11. What a cheeky fellow! If birds could talk, I would imagine he'd retort sarcastically, "Hey, I didn't see any hummingbirds only sign!"

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    1. Jennifer, this bold woodpecker does seem like the type that would give me lip. He barely moves when I try to shoo him away!

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  12. I was sitting on my porch the other night and a bat flew up to my feeder. Sensing that I was there...he took off like bat out of ---, (I just had to put that in :) So,I think that bats might be visiting my feeders during the evening and night. I've noticed a lot more activity by the hummingbirds too. We've had deer eating ripe tomatoes...all kind of unusual things happening this summer. I would imagine that the heat has dried up food sources and the animals are surviving the best way they can.
    I'm a first time visitor and have enjoyed my visit.
    Balisha

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    1. Balisha, welcome. I never knew bats visited the hummer feeders, and now I wonder if I am getting them too at night. We do have bats around. I am learning about all kinds of add animal behavior!

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  13. What an interesting post about animal behaviour. Well, to be fair, provide for both the woodpecker and hummers too. They need sustennance too :)

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    1. Stiletto, you are right, all the birds and critters need to eat. It's keeping me busy refilling the feeder so often, though!

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  14. Smart bird! The bees tend to empty our feeder once they discover it. Unfortunately some too eager ones manage to crawl up inside and perish.

    By the way, I love the bouncing lespedeza plant you featured on your prior post!

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    1. Deborah, Somehow the bees can't get into the little plastic feeder I have, thank goodness. I'm glad you enjoyed the last post on the lespedeza. There might be a spot for one in your beautifully layered foliage-rich gardens!

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  15. Oh no! I've heard such tales but never seen it. Birds are clever.

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    1. Cat, the other birds are clever, but only the hummers actually acknowledge me. They buzz me, they wait nearby while I fill the feeder, they hover right in front of me to say thanks. They communicate. The other birds seem like such big thugs compared to the hummers! But everybody's gotta eat.

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  16. I guess any chance to not bang your head for a meal is a welcome opportunity. We thought we'd seen it all but your post takes the cake for how clever they can be. Here's two posts where they share our finch feeder and also a clever way to get in the narrow slit for thistle seed.
    http://nestingranch.blogspot.com/2012/07/and-living-is-easy.html
    http://nestingranch.blogspot.com/2012/07/getting-caught-up-part-1.html

    Thanks to this post of yours we now know their secret is a long tongue!

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  17. Nesting Ranch, those woodpeckers are so ingenious --- you certainly have evidence of their sly ways on your blog! How they ever got into the finch feeder is amazing.

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