Zip! Zip! Zoom! The hummers swerve around us in their aerial battles for supremacy. Their distinctive wing sounds, coming from flapping literally hundreds of times per second, coupled with their chirping sounds, alert us to their presence. We put up two feeders, both on our front porch. Early on in the summer, a single male takes charge, but there’s not a huge rush on the feeders. Somewhere in July, though, competition sets in. A second male hummer dares to drink from the feeders. Well, the alpha male hummer cannot stand for that to happen. We begin to have hummer wars on our front porch, with two and sometimes even three hummers chasing each other. The original alpha male drives off the interlopers, and he goes to perch on a bare branch of an apple tree, or on the wires leading to the house. It is amazing to see the degree of competition we have for our sugar water. Best way to use ½ cup of sugar ever! Cheap entertainment. I must say I would not want to have a hummingbird attorney to ever argue a case of property rights, though. They are quite capable of putting on an effective defense among their peers.
We once put a feeder out in the back off of our deck, figuring a single hummer couldn’t observe both sides of the house at once, and thus we could support more hummers. What we hadn’t figured out was that raccoons could reach the backyard feeders, and we awoke to empty hummingbird feeders after a single night. We knew no birds could do that, and we did make an inference on the raccoon, but the image of a raccoon on a sugar high, bouncing off of the trees below was too good to forget.
Our summer outdoor living room is shared by many other life forms. This year we’ve had a bumper crop of skinks scurrying across our space. Not just the ones with neon blue tails, but another type with brown coloration. And we have had flickers at the hummingbird feeders, who are free from hummer raids. They seem to know it would not work to challenge such a large animal. They wish only to intimidate their own kind.
We even had another reptile pay us a visit this summer, and it provided quite a counterpoint to the frantic aerial pursuits of the hummers. A box turtle showed up, and we always are glad to see the slowest of animals still managing to survive in our urban environment. I say urban, because we do live on a city street, with a few thousand cars passing by daily. But when I look at the deer population, it becomes clear we only are the temporary residents, and the wildlife is the true inhabitants of our space. We do our best to welcome as much as we can, offering a multi-cultural lawn for any herbivores, and keeping our crab apple tree available for the squirrels.
I may have an argument or two with the squirrels, though. I have seen half-eaten tomatoes littering the back deck. I’ll be willing to fight for the tomatoes. Unfortunately, they won’t touch the excess of jalapenos growing in the same space. But watching the acrobats of the mammalian world stretching out on flimsy branches to grab a crab apple, scurry to a more secure perch, and just sit there gnawing at the bitter fruit. To them it must be a welcome change to their diet of nuts.
Soon enough the bounty of summer will be replaced with the need to stock up for winter. The chill of the fall evenings will cut through even the fur coats of all of the animals, and we’ll see the suicide squirrels who don’t make it successfully across the street. One day, our hummingbird feeders will be silent, as only the wasps still seek concentrated sugar. And wasps don’t make much noise. When we move the plants indoors, seeking to avoid the killing frosts, we will bid adieu to our outdoor living room. Until that time, though, we sit and watch the natural world intersect with us.