FLYING VISITORS

From: Meridian, ID:

I like honeybees – who doesn’t? – not only do we depend on them for food more the most of us realize, they don’t have a reputation for being viciously aggressive. At least not without good cause. Yellow jackets, on the other hand, seem a lot more…well…meaner. In truth, they probably accomplish a good deal of pollination, just like honey bees, but they haven’t done a very good job in polishing their image. Y’know? And wasps? I mean, who likes wasps? No one I know, and that’s for sure.

(Does this look like a friendly face?)

(Does this look like a friendly face?)

But back to yellow jackets. Every year around late spring, I put out the bright yellow traps one sees in the stores, making sure that I install fresh, new cotton bait balls. This year, it appears I did this way too early…after a month, one of the two traps I hung in the front yard maple tree caught a handful of some kind of lesser, black bees, and two yellow jackets. Queens, I think, both of them. Then it was zilch. For a month or more. I had also struck out with the trap I had hung in the back yard. Perhaps we weren’t going to have the multitudes that always come around in the summer, eh?

Not so. They have arrived. Because Janet and I spend more time outdoors in the back yard than in the front, I moved the empty one from the maple to a skyhook against the back yard fence. And I put fresh bait in all three.

(A wasp trap doing its job correctly.)

(A wasp trap doing its job correctly.)

With the arrival of the crowds of yellow jackets, the trap in the maple tree began catching them in earnest. And one of the two in the back yard was an absolute champion at nailing the little pests. The dead have piled up in the trap, but that doesn’t seem to deter newcomers. Perhaps it even helps attract them, eh? Think of Joe Yellow Jacket, flying from here to there and, suddenly, he spots a strange device that smells of yellow jacket ambrosia, and it’s filled to the gills with his cousins, packed in like gumballs in a penny fishbowl. “What’s up with that?” Joe thinks to himself. “There is something good in there…and those guys are eating up my share!” Gaining entrance is, of course, no problem. But once inside, he realizes something is amiss. Most of his cousins are not even moving, and those few that are, are simply flying in a tight circle around the plastic walls, searching for the exit. He can do nothing but join them in their futile search for a way out. They spend their breaks from flying inspecting the narrow slots in the ceiling of the trap, trying with all their might to squeeze through. It doesn’t work. Nothing does. The inside of these ingenious traps must get to temperatures significantly higher than a mere 100 degrees, and within some time period (2 hours? 3 hours?) they can fly no more, falling, exhausted and overheated, to the bottom of the trap to join the earlier arrivals in the “big sleep.” When I dwell too long on that process, I sometimes even find myself sympathizing with the little creeps. I’m betting that it is not a good way to die, even for a bug.

(A failed wasp trap.)

(A failed wasp trap.)

But the thing is, only one of the back yard traps catches any; the other one – placed only a few feet away, and using the same bait – has caught none! Huh? “How can that be?” I’m wondering. Standing a safe and sane distance from the two traps, I can easily see that both have up to a dozen yellow jackets buzzing around them, obviously interested. But as the one catches two dozen or more a day (I figure), the other can’t seem to close the deal. And believe me, I have inspected the bum trap. There is no blockage in any of the access holes located on the bottom. The bait cotton is clearly visible within its little “egg” in the center of the device. I cannot see any spiders, patiently waiting for a visitor. (Would spiders tackle a yellow jacket? I don’t know.) The only difference between the two one-way yellow jacket motels is that the good one hangs approximately a foot closer to the ground than the bad one. I simply refuse to believe such a slight difference in elevation is responsible for the extreme difference in the numbers of trapped yellow jackets. It just can’t be! Can it? Having nothing else in my bag of tricks, I suppose I’ll have to try lowering the bad trap to the same level as the good one, but then I remember that I’ve seen the little buggers hanging around the bad one…they just never go inside. How could elevation contribute to that behavior? It is a summertime mystery.

***

And speaking of your back yard fliers, is there anyone out there who is not fascinated by a hummingbird? I know I am. They are such different – and colorful – little creatures, and a bird that so many of us try to attract to our yards. With a very wide range of success, I might add.

We have always seemed to be at the lower end of that range, and not for lack of trying. Janet has tried commercial hummingbird syrup mixtures and a bunch of different recipes for home made juice. Three cups water to one cup sugar; four to one; two to one. Oh, there is a hummingbird again this year that comes around several times a day and sips at the feeder, but we have never seen its mate (if it has one), and I doubt we have seen another bird. There is the possibility, of course, that we are seeing several different ones, all coming by at different times…and all the same species. But I tend to believe there is only one.

(Hummingbirds sharing a feeder. Unusual, in my experience.)

(Hummingbirds sharing a feeder. Unusual, in my experience.)

Once upon a time, when we were living in southwest Washington state, we put out two feeders: one in the back yard and one in the front. The very first day the feeders were hanging, we thought we had found the perfect recipe, as well as the perfect locations (both for our residence and for the feeders). Why? Because within a very short time there were a dozen hummers, all vying for a spot at one feeder or the other. It was an iridescent flying circus, made up of the tiny creatures, darting and diving and swooping around the place. “How cool is that?” we exclaimed! We looked forward to a summer jam-packed with hummingbirds.

Imagine our disappointment when, just a few hours later, only one was left. Since then, we’ve read that the little buzzers are very territorial, and will aggressively defend what they have won in open competition. So the one that continued to visit our feeders was the one who had, in hummingbird fashion, beaten off all rivals. Evidently — and contrary to the photo above — sharing is not a popular concept amongst hummingbirds. The winner in our yard did, however, make one tactical error in that he claimed both feeders…the one in the back yard and the one in the front. He could not rest comfortably in either location, for fear that interlopers were violating the other one. Honestly, he soon became quite bedraggled from darting back and forth. He eventually stopped coming around. I’m told they are migratory birds, so I suppose he simply flew off when the time came.

One would think that a nesting pair would share, but I’ve never seen that, either. Maybe they take turns on the nest, but when it comes to sustenance you’re on your own, sweetheart?

I’ve held a hummingbird in my hand once in my lifetime. I was younger – around 11 or 12 years of age, I think – and I discovered a ruby-throated hummer caught in a spider web in my Grandpa’s large chicken coop/garage/shop building. (It had been a chicken coop, but was not at the time.) I imagine now that the little fellow would have eventually gotten free on his own…a spider wouldn’t try to poison and eat a hummingbird, would it? Anyhow, it was quite a magical moment, holding that tiny little thing in my hand. I let him go, hoping that he would consider me a friend for life and come back regularly to sit on my finger. That didn’t happen (the little ingrate!). Nevertheless, I felt pretty good about the good deed I had done.

I’ve seen pictures of people who have had the patience to get hummingbirds to do something like that, i.e., land on their hands to drink sugar water from their palm. Maybe I’ll try that someday. When I have the time.

(A "hummingbird moth." Really.)

(A “hummingbird moth.” Really.)

Did you know that there are species of moths that look and act like hummingbirds? Well, they don’t appear identical, of course, but really very, very similar…especially at a distance. Janet and I were taking a break in lawn chairs once several years ago, when we both spotted a hummingbird feeding at some flowers by the house. And then, as we watched the little thing buzzing and darting about, for all the world like an honest-to-goodness bird, we realized there was something…not…quite…right about it. We got up for a closer look, and sure enough, we could soon tell that our hummingbird was, in fact, a flying bug! A cruel hoax, perpetrated on us gullible bird lovers. I’ll tell you, I call a moth masquerading as a hummingbird an abomination! Since that day we saw it, we’ve never seen another one. Perhaps they’ve gone extinct, eh? And I say, “Good riddance.”

I hope you are all having a super day.

Bud

 

6 Responses

  1. Jerry Howard says:

    Bud this is getting scary. You have wiped out all of the back yard squirrels. You have wiped out all of the ground squirrels within 50 miles of Meridian. And now you are trying to eradicate the yellow jacket population. Tell the truth Bud. You are sitting by the humming bird feeder with a shotgun or at least your pellet gun. If I was a Montana mule deer I would move to North Dakota. :)

    • Bud Larson says:

      Hi Jer, Shame on you! I would never, ever harm a hummingbird! Cross my heart! Mule deer, elk, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, coyotes…well, those are something different, altogether. And rattlesnakes. Definitely rattlesnakes! Later, Ol’ Bud

  2. Ron Boy says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Jerry. I am quite sure the word has gotten out about your home. Not a good place to visit. Oh sure, it is nice to look at, has plenty of vegetation to eat, pretty flowers, and ample cover to hide in, but there is no way out! All creatures probably share horror stories of the Larson place. Your picking favorites of different species isn’t working for the general animal kingdom. They are afraid to see if they are on the preferred or favorites list. Be more like Jerry. He accepts all critters in his yard, opossums, raccoons, moles, etc. Oh sure he doesn’t like em, but he so far hasn’t eradicated any of them. Love your posts. Ron Boy

    • Bud Larson says:

      Wait a minute…while it’s true that Jerry hasn’t eradicated any of the varmints who come a-calling, it’s NOT for lack of trying! Is it fair for me to be held in contempt for being successful, while he gets to keep his “nice guy” badge? I’m calling foul!
      Thanks, Ron Boy. Ol’ Bud

  3. Jerry Howard says:

    Bud is just a better killer than me. Ron remember 40 years ago in the Eagle Cap when I tried to shoot a deer with an empty rifle.
    I hate to lose my “nice guy image but I did get a raccoon this morning.

  4. Ron Boy says:

    Nice going! You are now a member, in good standing, of Bud’s “Over the Rainbow” staff!

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