February 23, 2020

When Lady Hummers Go All Territorial on You

A lady hummingbird perches atop a cucumber trellis.

Janine Pineo Photo | A lady hummingbird perches atop a cucumber trellis.

• By Janine Pineo •

A happy garden hums.

From the bees drifting purposefully from bloom to bloom to the crickets that chirp away to the frogs that sing in the night, rarely is my garden quiet.

There are only two things that startle me: a snake that might slither under the black plastic mulch and the ensuing susurration as it escapes or the fierce flight of a hummingbird as they dart merrily about the flowers, their hum a few decibels above that of the bees.

I adore hummers. They arrive in the yard every spring and woe is upon us if we don’t already have a fuschia hanging by the back door. Why? Because our hummers will hover outside the back door, eyeballing the space where the fuschia always hangs.

Talk about Pavlov’s dog. It is unnerving.

I was out picking beans the other day when I heard an approaching hum. It whooshed by my head and I saw a lady hummer attacking the red sage planted at the corner of the vegetable garden.

I straightened up and watched her hover, the flower from which she was sipping quivering slightly.

Before I knew what was happening, I heard another hum and a second lady hummingbird swooped by and attempted to sup from the same clump of red sage.

The prize: the red sage in question

Janine Pineo Photo | The prize: the red sage in question

To be honest, there was enough red sage nectar to go around. Spike after spike of flowers was in bloom, an impressive display if I do say so myself.

But neither lady hummingbird felt the same.

I barely had blinked before the two of them chased each other in a loop or several before the oddest thing occurred.

The two of them flew straight before me and stopped not a foot from my face. They paid me no mind, but faced each other, their wings naught but a blur.

I have no idea what exactly they were communicating to each other in this faceoff. What I do know is that I could have lifted both hands and grabbed each one, so close were they.

The faceoff included a tiny bit of darting toward each other — in front of my face — and in my defense I was startled.

Which led to me shout, albeit softly, “Hey, knock it off, you two.”

With that, they chased each other up across the sunflowers and into the trees.

I remained in place, stunned by the fierce little hummingbirds who were arguing over the choicest blooms. And I wished I could have filmed the encounter, which lasted fewer than 10 seconds.

A couple of days later, I was back in the garden and heard a hum approach. I glanced up and saw a lone lady hummer gently land atop the cucumber trellis.

She sat there, surveying her domain for the longest time.

She then looped about, disappearing into the garden.

I put away my camera and went back to picking vegetables.