A mystery grudge between breeds that’s not likely to be solved soon

Chickadees are pretty feisty little birds but they are no match for an angry hummingbird.
Chickadees are pretty feisty little birds but they are no match for an angry hummingbird. The Associated Press

The first time this incident occurred, or more correctly that I witnessed it, I assumed it was a one-time thing and that a chickadee had rubbed a hummingbird’s feathers the wrong way.

Since that first encounter, I’ve seen it happen numerous times and still don’t know why — hummingbirds chase chickadees.

Chickadees are pretty feisty little birds and to see this one give ground and flee from a small hummingbird was a surprise. What could the chickadee have done to make the hummingbird so angry?

There was no doubt that this tiny bird was bothered by the chickadee’s presence. Its angry and aggressive actions were directed at the “dee” when it was trying to drink and bathe in the bird bath. That little bird didn’t stop with one pass at the chickadee. He kept buzzing the object of his anger until it left.

I thought it was an interesting encounter and didn’t expect to see it happen again.

Wrong. I’ve watched a hummingbird chase a chickadee away more than once. There has to be a reason for it but I don’t know what it is.

I’ve never seen one of my chickadees try to drink from the hummingbird feeder. There is one in the area where these encounters often take place. That is the obvious thing to suspect, but I have no proof of it. As the feeder is fastened on the outside of the kitchen window, it is under observation much of the time.

Birds other than the hummers will feed at syrup feeders and chickadees are one of them. Other birds that have a sweet tooth include goldfinches, house finches, orioles, warblers and woodpeckers.

My syrup feeders are the type where the feeding bird must stick its beak into a small hole and sip the liquid. It’s easy for hummingbirds because of their long, slim bill. They use their long, slim tongue to suck up the sweet drink. Not all birds have this type of drinking arrangement.

One exception is the woodpecker, which has a very long tongue that it can extend a long way. Their tongue is a muscle that wraps up the back of their head and on to the top of it. This “padding” protects their brain when they are hammering on tree trunks.

Readers have told me about woodpeckers like the flicker and the downy drinking from their hummingbird feeders. They’ve also had chickadees drink the syrup, or as some have guessed, drink from the water moats that surround the feeding holes. These water moats are designed to keep ants out of the sweet drink.

Not only are different birds fond of feeding or drinking at hummingbird feeders, but some mammals like the bats also do it. Insects such as ants, bees and even butterflies also crave a bit of sweetness.

This still doesn’t explain why I am seeing hummingbirds picking on chickadees. Only once did I see a chickadee land on the syrup feeder, but it seemed confused and quickly left. It was probably thinking, “What kind of a feeder is this?” Or, “Where are the sunflower seeds?”

Hummingbirds and chickadees use the same type of nesting materials such as lichens and moss. Perhaps a nesting hummer caught a chickadee pilfering some of her nesting materials and a longtime grudge was born — or maybe it happens enough that hummingbirds just don’t want chickadees in the area where they have a nest.

It’s a mystery and chances don’t look good that I will solve it in the near future.

Write to Joan Carson at P.O. Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Or send an email to