Harriet Bergmann has found a new contraption to attract hummingbirds to her Mount Washington home. Photo: Harriet Bergmann

Come hither

The ad for the contraption acknowledges that hummingbirds get energy from nectar and sugar water, but they need protein, too, and for that they eat the tiniest insects. Fruit flies!

There’s a neat trick for demonstrating the difficulties and glories of the English language. Two sentences can show it all:

Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit flies like a banana.

Nouns and verbs are interchangeable, verbs are prepositions, simile is fact, humor comes from repetition and difference. It’s a great teaching tool. I remembered it today when I tried to attract fruit flies.

I’ve bought a hummingbird feeder that is not the typical red bottle filled with sugar water. I decided that I’m not disciplined enough to remember to change the water every other day, wash out the bottle and rehang it, and I found this instead. The new attraction looks like a red plastic carousel with vertical slits and a red plastic tent on top. It has a tray in the bottom designed to hold a few banana peels.

The ad for the contraption acknowledges that hummingbirds get energy from nectar and sugar water, but they need protein, too, and for that they eat the tiniest insects. Fruit flies! What do fruit flies like? A banana! Into the bottom of the new contraption you put the banana and peel, preferably one with lots of brown spots and squish to it, and attract fruit flies. They gather in larger numbers than ever, hovered over a rotten peach in your fruit dish, and the hummingbirds come from miles around.

So I hung this new feeder out on the deck, and then I looked for those pesky drosophila, and they just didn’t come. I put the compost collector on the deck rail: No flies, although the ants began to discover heaven in a pail. Is the Mount Washington air so very pure that we don’t have any fruit flies? Would I have to import them?

Finally, perversely, it came to me. I Googled “how to get rid of fruit flies.” There were lots of ways to make a trap. Leave a wine bottle with dregs out on the counter with a few drops of liquid soap in it — lured, trapped, drowned!

So if I want to attract them to get them to stay around and feed the hummers, I first have to understand what they like. I’ll leave what they like in a prominent place and be perfectly honest about it: no hidden drops of soap, no narrow-necked decoys. I am their friend — well, maybe not, but at least I’m relatively neutral. They will die, but at the hands (beaks, then) of their natural enemies.

I don’t know yet whether this will work. There’s a moral in here somewhere, something to do with facilitation or aiding and abetting. Or maybe it simply hasn’t been warm enough on Mount Washington for fruit flies to hang around. We’ll see, as time flies.