DRAWN TO THE PUB

Apart from the blossoms of the Erythrina caffra trees, there is little in the way of natural sources of nectar for birds at the moment. This is why the ‘pub’ in our garden has become increasingly attractive and needs to be refilled every day – if not twice in the day. A few of the recent visitors are:

A pair of Cape White-eyes visit the pub several times a day. One usually waits on a branch nearby for its turn. They are small enough birds for a pair to perch and drink at the same time, which is delightful to see. On other occasions a small flock of them descend on the area, with much chatter has they dart in for a drink when they can.

Cape Weavers have little in the way of manners. They swoop in to drink whenever they feel the need – which is often. The blush on this bird shows the breeding season has arrived.

Here is an example of the dominance of the weavers: a Cape Weaver dislodges Mrs. Amethyst Sunbird.

Mrs. Amethyst Sunbird managed to return, yet was conscious of a Cape White-eye waiting in the wings for its turn to drink.

Lastly, a very welcome visitor to the ‘pub’ is always the brightly coloured Black-headed Oriole.

WAITING FOR THE PUB

You can tell from the varying levels – and the background – that these photographs were not all taken on the same day. Collectively, they tell the story of a few of the many visitors to our nectar feeder – which regular readers will know I frequently refer to as the pub. Apart from the sunbirds – not featured in this tale – by far the largest and showiest avian visitor is the Black-headed Oriole. It is not easily intimidated and so usually does not have to wait politely for its turn.

Waiting to use the pub – or being bounced from it – is a daily occurrence, as the following sequence will show. Firstly we have a pair of Cape White-eyes which often arrive together and take turns to sip the nectar. One might ‘bounce’ the other if it feels it has been waiting for too long, but they mostly swop around fairly quickly and without fuss.

They are small birds and are easily ousted by the larger and more aggressive Cape Weaver.

The latter snaps at anyone else coming for a drink and frequently chases the ‘drinker’ away only to abandon the pub to chase someone else. When it does get to the pub, it has a tendency to hog it.

One bird it will always give way to is the Fork-tailed Drongo, which swoops down with the confidence of taking up his rightful place at the pub. There is no hesitation on its part at all.

Such is the pressure on this ‘nectar’ on some days that the queue gets longer. I have featured these particular Cape Weavers before, however they provide a useful illustration of the traffic build-up that is sometimes experienced.

THERE’S AN ANT IN MY NECTAR!

The level of the nectar feeder has been going down very slowly of late. While this is not particularly unusual at this time of the year, with the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and the aloes blooming, what has been strange is the behaviour of the few visitors that have alighted on it. The sunbirds are cautious feeders anyway. Now, one might perch, look around, dip into the feeder once only and leave. Even the robust Fork-tailed Drongos barely perch for more than a second or two: very odd behaviour.

Ants are the problem. During this prolonged drought, they have fanned out in search of moisture and discovered a lethal source of liquid gold in the spout of the nectar feeder.

Lethal, because so many of them are drawn right into the bottle, from which there is no escape. They probably get shoved in ever deeper by the sheer mass of ants thronging around the rim or ‘swimming’ in the opening of the feeder.

I now dip a stick into the feeder whenever I go past and when I withdraw it I find the stick crawling with ants. A whole lot of them fell off in a ‘blob’ before I could take this picture.

ANTICS AT THE NECTAR FEEDER

I have mentioned before that the nectar feeder (that I usually refer to as ‘the pub’) is not frequently used when there are plenty of natural nectar sources available – the aloes and Cape Honeysuckle are very popular during winter.

aloe

The other day, however, I came across a query about the possibility of weavers and white-eyes hogging the feeder to the exclusion of other birds. This led me to pay special attention to the use of ‘the pub’ during the last week of August. Birds which frequented it during this time include: Forktailed Drongo, Cape Weaver, Village Weaver, Black Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Greater Double-Collared Sunbird, and Blackheaded Oriole.

Collectively the weavers are a scrappy lot at the best of times, so it is not uncommon to see one chasing another off ‘the pub’, especially when a lot of them are at the feeding station at once. I was interested to note that the female Cape Weavers appeared to be more aggressive about chasing each other of the perch than the males were.

Black Sunbirds tend to make a noise as they announce their approach to the feeder; sometimes waiting their turn perched on a nearby branch and at other times darting in as soon as another bird has left the feeder. They are sometimes chased off by weavers – as are the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. Male Black Sunbirds tend to perch, look around and then draw from the nectar feeder with intent. Females, on the other hand, make a noise, sip, and look around – repeating these actions until they have had their fill.

Cape White-eyes generally approach the feeder either mid-morning or during the latter part of the afternoon when other birds have left to find food elsewhere. I have not observed them chasing another species of bird away – their own kind, yes.

Cape White-eye

While the Forktailed Drongos do not use the feeder all that often, they do drive other birds away. Sometimes they emit what appears to be an alarm call that causes all birds, from a tiny Bronze Manikin to the much large Rock Pigeon, to flurry off to the safety of branches in nearby trees. On other occasions the drongos literally bump other birds off the perch – especially weavers. I watched three drongos chasing each other off in rapid succession the other day in order to have their turn at ‘the pub’ – none were content to wait.

forktailed drongo

I include a few pictures to show the structure of the feeder: a wooden frame with a hole in it large enough to fit a Mrs Balls Chutney bottle; a hole in the lid of the bottle has a copper u-bend soldered into it.

nectar feeder

feederlid

Depending on the weather and the availability of natural sources of nectar, we refill the bottle from once or twice a week to every ten days or so.