Nappy: Bold and Selfish

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He was bold, selfish and looking out only for himself.  Smaller than the rest, we named him Napoleon and called him Nappy.  Suffering from a bad case of poverty consciousness, Nappy acted as though there was never enough.  He had to be the neighborhood bully in an attempt to keep everything to himself.  If any of the others approached, he responded with aggression and fought them off with loud noises and flailing that moved faster than the eye could see.

He was one mean and nasty hummingbird.

I often sat at the round, glass table in my kitchen and watched Nappy through the large window.  It was amazing how he would take on up to 14 other hummingbirds at a time.  Our backyard is a hummers’ paradise with gorgeous flowers and plants, but what they really like are the three 48-ounce feeders that are religiously kept filled with clear, sweet nectar.  During the height of hummingbird season all three feeders must be filled on a daily basis.  That was, until Nappy came along.

Nappy liked to sit on the hanger of one of the feeders and guard his stash.  If any other hummers came to feed, he would charge them mercilessly until they left.  He looked like a one-bird F-18 fighter plane going in for the kill.  As the season wore on the other birds got wise to his action.  A hummer would fly in and get Nappy to chase him away.  While he was in pursuit of the diversion bird, 12 others would fly in and vie for a chance at the feeders.  Nappy would come tearing back at full speed and dive bomb the others until they, too, flew away.

I am not exactly sure that Nappy was a “he.”  I mean, I never could get close enough to get a good look at whatever it is I would look at to give me that information.  I guess it is almost prejudicial that I would assume this behavior was typically male.  Can you picture a “she” hummer getting all territorial and not letting anyone else eat?  No way.  She would be saying, “Come, eat, enjoy, have a nosh, it’s so lovely.”  Isn’t that what we do as women, we nurture those around us?  We feed the world.

I actually tried talking to Nappy.  I thought a little reasoning might get through to him and end his selfish ways.  I stood outside near his lookout perch and said, “Okay, little dude, you can’t be this way.  There is enough for everyone.  I realize you are afraid that you might not get everything that is coming to you and that you must fight for what you think is yours. Have you noticed that none of the others want to hang out with you? Have you noticed that your fear is pushing them away?”

My efforts were in vain.  Nappy blatantly ignored my advice and continued to torture the neighborhood.

He continued to live his life as though there was not enough.

Dr. Patty
Patricia Leigh Bay, Psy.D. is a licensed Marriage, Family Therapist with a private practice in Redding, California. Since 1979 she has loved working with children, adolescents, adults, families and relationships.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I’ve wondered why doves have been designated the symbol of peace because they are so aggressive. If there were ever a mating of a dove and a hummingbird, the offspring would make Hitler look like Gandhi.

  2. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    If the lower photo is Nappy, he’s a male Anna’s hummingbird.

    Normally hummers will guard feeders until there are so many hummingbirds pressuring the territorial bird that the feeder becomes indefensible. At that point, it becomes a “scramble competition” where everyone is just eating as fast as they can. It sounds like that’s what you’ve got at the peak, given that you’re refilling your feeders every day.

    Someone forgot to educate Nappy on the optimal foraging model.

  3. Avatar Patricia Bay says:

    Love the comments!!

  4. Avatar Tim says:

    I am reminded of M.W. Fox’s study of turkeys in the 1970s. He placed a stuff polecat in the nest of a mother turkey and observed that she attacked the inanimate object as ferociously as if it were the real thing. But when he placed a recording of the “cheep cheep” sound of baby turkeys inside the stuffed polecat, the mother turkey literally swooped it in under her wing.

    It turns out such unthinking “fixed action patterns” are not unique to turkeys. Male red robins will attack a clump of red feathers, yet leave a detailed stuffed robin alone as long as it has no red. The same is true for the color blue and the Bluethroat.

    In humans, the pop Psychologist Robert Cialdini dubbed these automatic responses to certain triggers the “click, whirr” principle.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Welcome back, Tim!

      Yours is one of very few direct references to Konrad Lorenz’s ethological terms that I’ve encountered since grad school. Some of the most spectacular examples of fixed action patterns are in bird mating displays.

      I wonder if the word in current popular use—”triggered”—has a direct lineage to the ethological term? I think I’ll just go ahead and assume that the answer is yes.

      • Avatar Tim says:

        Thanks Steve, I hope my mod_security issues are behind me…

        I wish I could say I read the original studies by Tinbergen, Lorenz, & von Frisch, but I merely read Cialdini’s summations in his 1984 book “Influence” (online copy: )

        Perhaps the most frustrating/pervasive fixed action pattern I’ve noticed is when I make the automatic, yet inappropriate, response “Thanks, you too.” Example:

        Uber guy dropping us off at the stadium: Enjoy the game
        Me: thanks you too

  5. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Great article Dr. Bay! I took down our two feeders because one bird took control over them and chased all the other hummers away. He would spend the day in a tree to keep an eye on his possessions. There are lots of other food sources on the property. I hoped he’d come to his senses and find a better use for that passion and energy!