How’s this for a happy problem: Several North Jersey backyard birders report that downy woodpeckers have been hogging the sugar water in their hummingbird feeders this summer.
Most folks view the interlopers more as a phenomenon than an irritant, but after asking around, I’ve found that the freeloading is fairly widespread, and it has likely been going on for as long as there have been hummingbird feeders,
A quick search of my old emails found that a reader had written to me seven years ago about the problem and — heaven forbid — I never replied. Think of this column as part belated apology and part how-to article.
Don Torino of the Bergen County Audubon Society says that “it seems in the last few years downys at hummingbird feeders have become very common. Some folks seem a little frustrated at times but most think it’s a very interesting behavior.”
Torino’s solution for the frustrated folks: “Put up an extra feeder and enjoy the hummers and the woodpeckers together. It shouldn’t be about trying to control wildlife behavior. Just sit back and enjoy the show.”
When you think of it, hummingbird feeders are the very definition of an attractive nuisance — a source of free sugar water for any insect, bird or mammal that can find its way to the feeder.
That means not just ants and bees and downy woodpeckers but such freeloaders as squirrels, Baltimore orioles, house finches and (in Arizona) even bats. If white-tailed deer figured out a way to mooch the sugar water, you can bet they’d be there, too.
As a birder in Oakland reports: “I have had a downy at my feeder all summer, and now the red-bellied is there as well. The little hummer has to wait his turn.”
Concerned that the interlopers are drinking too much of the sugar water and your neighborhood hummingbirds aren’t getting their fair share? Tired of refilling your hummingbird feeder all the time? Here’s some advice.
The secret to success with feeders of any kind often involves design, and it turns out that hummingbird feeders come in all sorts of nifty shapes and sizes to ward off unwanted spongers.
For example, if ants are a problem, you can buy feeders with little moats. (Last time I checked, ants were lousy swimmers.)
If other mooching birds are a problem, you can buy a hummingbird feeder without any perches. These feeders look pretty cool, like large Christmas ornaments.
As for bees, I am told you should avoid feeders with those little yellow-flower accents. (I once had a feeder like that, but a bunch of rowdy squirrels deflowered it.) It seems that red attracts hummingbirds, but the fake yellow flowers draw wasps and bees.
Other birders have reported that squirrels are raiding their hummer feeders as well. That raises the question: How do you keep squirrels away from hummingbird feeders?
The answer is the same for all feeders: Make the feeder harder to get to (think “baffles”), and then pray a lot. I have found that like telemarketers, squirrels are nearly impossible to get rid of, no matter how hard you try.
Tiny tasers, anyone? (For the telemarketers, of course. You didn’t think I’d … )
About Pigeon Patrol:
Pigeon Patrol Products & Services is the leading manufacturer and distributor of bird deterrent (control) products in Canada. Pigeon Patrol products have solved pest bird problems in industrial, commercial, and residential settings since 2000, by using safe and humane bird deterrents with only bird and animal friendly solutions. At Pigeon Patrol, we manufacture and offer a variety of bird deterrents, ranging from Ultra-flex Bird Spikes with UV protection, Bird Netting, 4-S Gel and the best Ultrasonic and audible sound devices on the market today.
Voted Best Canadian wholesaler for Bird Deterrent products four years in a row.
Contact Info: 1- 877– 4– NO-BIRD (www.pigeonpatrol.ca)