Brown-headed Nuthatch and Ruby-throated Hummingbird – An Interesting Encounter

Late one afternoon earlier this week it was still very warm on the deck, hot really, but a strong breeze and the shade of the oaks made it pleasant enough to be out. The hummingbird feeder that hangs from a crook off the deck is a popular spot and fun to watch, not only for hummingbirds, but also for Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, American Goldfinches and Brown-headed Nuthatches – all of which come to the circular feeder to drink from water in the little moat in the middle, meant to discourage ants.

The chickadees, titmice, goldfinch and nuthatch cling to the arm of the hook from which the feeder hangs, and turn upside down to sip from the moat. They also sometimes go to a shallow clay saucer that I try to keep filled with water in a shady spot near the ferns and impatiens – but they seem to much prefer the moat in the feeder for drinking. At times, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zooms up, backs off and hovers impatiently while a much larger chickadee or titmouse drinks.

The chickadees and titmice usually chatter loudly as they arrive and the whole time they’re on the feeder, the chickadees with long strings of dee-dee-dee-dee-dees. The goldfinches come more quietly, slipping in and away, while the nuthatches sometimes call, but are more often quiet. A pair come together and take turns, each one waiting nearby in the trees while the other sips from the moat.

On this afternoon, I was watching a quiet Brown-headed Nuthatch leaning upside down to drink, when a Ruby-throated Hummingbird male with a brilliant, iridescent throat came zipping up and hovered near the feeder. He hesitated. The nuthatch raised its head and looked at the hummingbird, then leaned back down to drink. The tiny hummingbird then cautiously, delicately settled at one of the nectar holes on the round feeder and began to sip. The nuthatch looked up again, and the hummingbird rose in the air and backed up a little – and the two exchanged a good long look. Then the hummingbird settled back down on the feeder, and the nuthatch turned back to the moat. It was only for a very few, tentative seconds, but they shared the spot.  The nuthatch took one more drink before flying away to join its mate.

In this summer’s brutally hot, dry weather, both food and water must be harder to find for birds and other animals, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with this incident of sharing – it might not have been unusual at all. But certainly the birdbaths and other water sources around our yard are pretty busy with everything from crows to hummingbirds all day long – though not often with different species sharing a spot. Bluebirds, robins, phoebes, house finches, Chipping Sparrows, mockingbirds, cardinals – and more – bathe and drink from the birdbath, but almost always they come at different times, as if by agreement of some unspoken kind.

Leave a Reply