Nectar thieves in hummingbird feeders and bluebirds preying on frogs

flying squirrel

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In the “Since You Asked” section in each issue of BirdWatching, editor-in-chief Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and their behavior. Here are two questions from our September/October 2018 issue.

Q: On two nights recently, my hummingbird feeder emptied about 16 ounces of nectar each night. Could bats be the culprit? We don’t see any traces of bats before dark. Bob Ferrel, Linville, North Carolina

Bats will definitely take nectar from hummingbird feeders, but only certain types of bats feed on nectar, and most are found in tropical regions. If you lived in a border state like Arizona, for example, long-nosed bats and Mexican long-tongued bats might be the species slurping up your sweet offering. In the eastern United States, however, local bats are insect eaters. The most likely nectar thieves where you live are raccoons and flying squirrels. These nocturnal mammals have both been frequently reported emptying hummingbird feeders at night. Other suspects include deer and bears, which can spread as much nectar as they consume.

Eastern Bluebird at nest boxEastern Bluebird in a nest box. Photo by Kathy Morris

Q: We were thrilled to have bluebird nests on our property. One rainy day we watched them deliver food to the little ones in the box and swore it was like they were delivering a little frog or toad. Is it possible? Steve Jacobs, Boston

Yes! Although rare, I have read a few reports of bluebirds feeding their young little frogs. During a rainy period when insects may be harder to find, bluebirds might be lucky to find frogs traveling to and from ponds through areas of low vegetation. They would be perfect victims of the typical bluebird hunting style, perch and sweep. As with other larger prey insects, such as large grasshoppers, adult bluebirds probably knocked the frog against a branch before feeding it to the well-developed nestlings. I presume that frog bones would be no more difficult to process digestively than the hard exoskeletons of beetles or other insect prey.

See also  Managing Birds of Prey at Your Feeders