This week the hummingbirds have begun fighting in earnest, with two or three combatants vying for dominance at each feeder. I find it amusing that such tiny mites could find anything to bicker about considering that they have three full feeders at their disposal, but all day long the battles for supremacy go on. They are not shy about it, either, because when I bring my morning tea onto the porch they come buzzing past me, wings and tails fully expanded, as if they are actually scaring anyone. The chase goes around the banisters, over the railings, past the beams and through the hanging plants, all while the feeders hang there unused.
I know the hummers are starting to gas up for their long trip south but I have to wonder why they feel the need to fight over an endless supply of nectar. Obviously, incessant bickering over nothing is not just “human” nature. It seems that all the wild critters suffer the same affliction.
I’m not sure if it’s the coming of fall that triggers animal anxiety (they are just as testy toward each other in spring) but lately it seems that all my visiting critters have a grudge going on. All through the summer my little herd of red squirrels has gotten along just fine, often sitting shoulder to shoulder while devouring a pile of sunflowers seeds, but now they are suddenly at odds with each other, scolding, chattering at and chasing each other for hours on end. Again, the food supply is endless and there is always plenty for everyone but these hyper little beasts seem suddenly intolerant of each other.
Other battles crop up throughout the day that may be more reasonable from a predator-prey perspective. The local robin population, for example, seems hell-bent on keeping any and all hawks from entering their lawn and garden oasis. They don’t seem to mind if a hawk lands in the woods along the edge of the pasture or perches on a wire over the road, but if a raptor should attempt to slip into the shady oaks in the yard they are all over it in seconds. The sound of battle is so loud and intense that I have to stop what I’m doing and check on the conflict. The robins will continue their high-pitched chirping as long as the hawk remains in sight, but when I step onto the deck the hawk always makes a run for it. The robins can tolerate my presence but hawks and owls are very shy when it comes to human contact.
Maybe these feathered predators remember the days when it was legal to shoot them. As recently as 1960 chicken farmers would wage war on hawks and owls, but it’s been 60 years since killing birds of prey has been allowed. They are somewhat bolder than I remember but they still have a comfort zone when it comes to humans and most are not very tolerant.
Despite all this discord there is some semblance of harmony among other back-yard species. The gray squirrels seem to ignore the reds and each other as they raid the feeders and seed piles, content to sit and nibble for as long as it takes to fill their bellies. If a mourning dove, goldfinch or sparrow wanders too near the adjacent squirrel will offer a vague threat but in most cases everyone just picks a spot and claims it as their own with no additional drama.
Overall, the most intolerant birds are the cardinals. They often come in pairs but gingerly, flitting from bush to branch at long intervals so they can stop and survey the competition. In most cases the female come in first (after all others have departed) and, if she’s not chased away by some other bird or animal, the bright red male comes in to feed. The cardinals are very alert, curious and suspicious; when another bird or squirrel approaches they leave immediately and may not return for several hours.
The cardinals are most likely to come in at dawn or dusk, apparently content to wait till there are no threats lying in wait.
All this posturing, of course, occurs throughout the summer and fall. Come winter and it’s a giant free-for-all where everyone shows up at once and sharing, tolerance and charity are the name of the game. The birds and squirrels will even tolerate me when I go out to feed them after a snowfall. The deer and turkeys, desperately shy right now, even seem tame once cold weather sets in.
Of course, we’re still a long way from such things. The garden and flowers are slowly fading away but there remains a good supply of tomatoes, cucumbers and squash among the yellowing foliage. Most of the summer flowers have gone to seed as well. My marigolds and sunflowers are still strong but it’s clear that the growing year is slowly coming to an end. Most blame the drought and heat for the quicker-than-usual decline but even the plants that I have faithfully watered every day since May seem to have given up.
Not that there’s any reason to lament the waning days of summer. It was fun while it lasted but now the fall hunting seasons loom on the horizon, giving outdoorsmen reason to celebrate. Maine’s black bear hunting season begins officially Aug. 29, and goose hunting begins Sept. 1. Archery deer and fall turkey hunting begin in September as well, and then the floodgates open in October for small game, deer, waterfowl, bear and other popular species. Moose hunting (by permit only) begins in September as well, giving hunters a variety of options.
Fishing season continues well into the fall, too, for those who want to spend more time on the water before our lakes and ponds freeze over. Obviously, there are plenty of things to do outdoors once we get the lawns and gardens tucked away for the season. There’s plenty to do and nothing to fuss about. If only we could explain that to the hummingbirds!