No, not that “the birds and the bees.” In preparing to write this anecdote about the literal birds and actual bees in my back yard, I briefly paused to research where that inane euphemism comes from and even with the little information I found, it seems at best a horribly inefficient explanation of reproduction. Accurate sex education matters!
But, like I said, that’s not today’s topic. More specifically, we’re talking ruby throated hummingbirds and honey bees. (I just realized that a mistranslation could very easily turn them into “redneck hummingbirds,” which drastically changes their image, don’t you think?) I’ve mentioned before how I make an effort to attract these tiny feathered maniacs to my yard, and I’ve seen more this year than I have since we moved here, although the numbers are laughable compared to the swarms at my parents’ house.
Shortly after moving to the house my parents still live in now, my mom was given a hummingbird feeder by her mom. She graciously accepted it, silently anticipating a sticky, ant-infested mess for virtually no payoff (read, hummingbirds). Mom and Dad did the research on what to put in the feeder, made the sugar water, and hung up the feeder. Very shortly thereafter, Mom and Dad were studying the bird feeders at the Blue Store to find which feeders would hold the most nectar, could accommodate the most birds, and had the most convenient features for cleaning and refilling, which was now being done daily. Mom wondered if the grocery store clerks thought she had some kind of problem, buying a five pounds of sugar a week.
We don’t have that many, but we are seeing more each year. We have a handful, and I have five feeders that I put out in the back yard (six if you count the little one that sticks to the window, but I’ve never seen a hummingbird at it. We keep it because if they did, it would be so cool). I don’t fill the feeders very full and the birds never empty them like they do daily at my parents’ house, but they’re territorial, and I find that giving them too many feeders to guard allows more birds to use the feeders while the meanie of the day is chasing someone else off.
I also try to plant plenty of flowers that they might like, and as an added benefit, I get more pollinators in the yard too. This year, I’ve seen a lot of honey bees. I shared a picture on my Instagram a few weeks ago of the water dish I set up on the patio for a honey bee that came to visit, and I’ve seen them drinking water from the ant moats above the hummingbird feeders, but apparently with the extended heat wave, it hasn’t been sufficient. The hummingbird feeder on our deck has been claimed in the name of the queen.
I’m not worried about the hummingbirds, but they have been more active in the last couple weeks, so they might need this feeder to get ready for their migration. They have plenty of other feeders to choose from, but they are notoriously bad at sharing, both with their own kind and with others. The first day that the bees really started using this feeder, I witnessed a tiny standoff between an indignant hummingbird and a couple of bees. I guess the bees won because in a few hours there were more than a dozen honeybees on the feeder.
I like honey, and I’ve heard all the Save the Bees stuff, and I like other plants that the bees pollinate, so in an effort to help these bees, I set up another little feeding station for the bees on the railing next to the hummingbird feeder that they had claimed. I took a small, brightly colored bowl and put a little of the hummingbird nectar in it (just sugar water, 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, nothing else; no need to buy the store-bought stuff, and for Pete’s sake, don’t put red coloring in it), and then I set the bowl in a shallow ramekin of plain water to try and keep it from being overrun with ants.
The first day I had this out, I never saw any bees at it, but by the end of the day the sugar water was very nearly all gone, so it either evaporated (very possible) or somebody was drinking it when I wasn’t looking. I washed the dishes overnight and tried again the next day. This time I did catch a couple bees checking it out, although not with the results I had hoped for. As I left for the gym yesterday, I peeked in and to my dismay found a bee fully immersed in the water. I feared he had already drowned, but I saw one feeble leg twitch and grabbed a stick (I knew there was a good reason I hadn’t swept off the deck lately!), and the soggy little bee, previously resigned to his fate of death by sugar water, quickly grabbed on and hurried his way up the stick.
After Kalen got home from work, I told him about the bee rescue and we went to check on the bees. Again, we found a single bee paddling around the bowl of sugar water. I grabbed my stick (now stashed conveniently next to the bee feeder/hazard), and fished him out. We watched as he dried his wings and cleaned sugar water from all over his body, and Kalen suggested we add a few rocks to the sugar water to curtail the Augustus Gloop impressions.
I had considered the rocks before, but I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of washing sugar water off of rocks every evening. It seemed silly before, but better to feel silly than to accidentally drown the bees I’m trying to feed, right? Right, Mr. Wonka??
This was apparently the right move, and the nearly-drowned bees must not have been too traumatized, because word quickly spread. Nearly all the bees moved from the hummingbird feeder to the little bowl of sugar water with the bees drinking from both the sweetened and unsweetened pools until about sunset, when they all flew off to wherever their hive must be. I brought in the bowls to wash and returned them, cleaned and refilled, to the same spot this morning when the first bee showed up, buzzing around the railing as if to say, “I swear it was right here.”
So I guess I’m feeding the hummingbirds and a handful of bees now. They haven’t bothered us any, and thankfully Pippin hasn’t tried to snap them out of the air like spicy sky raisins.
I almost forgot, I promised you turtles, too. Harriet, the turtle that visits my parents’ front door in search of fruit almost every day, has brought a friend. I’ve named him Hubert, and he’s not as bold as Harriet, or at least not quite as used to people, but I suspect he’ll warm up with time. I always found it remarkable how scientists can consistently identify different individuals within a group of animals, such as different whales in the same pod, or the individual chimpanzees that Jane Goodall lived with for years. But here I am, looking at these turtles and quickly recognizing, “Hey, that ain’t the same turtle!”
If you’re curious, Hubert has more colorful spots on his head and neck, his eyes are more brightly colored, and the bottom of his shell flares out more (these are all indicators that he is male, but are also features that are readily noticeable in comparison to Harriet). It also helps if you see them together.
I guess they’re a little more than friends. That’s the birds and the bees for you (and the turtles, apparently).