Hummingbirds – in Winter?

Hummingbirds are among the most favourite birds here in North America.  I read recently that there are about 18 species of hummingbirds that visit Canada each year. Here in SW British Columbia where we live, bright red nectar feeders can be seen hanging outside many residences during the summer months.  People love to have these tiny little birds visiting their feeders.  The humming bird hovers with ease, its little wings a blur of motion as it uses its long beak to drink the solution of one part table sugar, four parts water.  While there are some other birds that can hover, the humming bird is the only one that can fly backwards.

The western hummingbirds migrate north from their winter home in Mexico in early spring and return in the late summer/early autumn.  The males head south in August and the females, with the new babies in September.  In the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver where we live, we have been in the habit of putting out our nectar feeder in early March, and soon we have visitors who are in transit to their summer home to the north.  We are like a “gas/petrol station” for them.  Those who are going to be resident here for the summer start arriving in April.

Rufous Hummingbird (Male)

Rufous hummingbird (female)

The Rufous Hummingbird is the species most seen here and throughout the NW sector of the continent.  They are cheeky, rambunctious little birds.  The males have a neck covered with bright metallic red coloured feathers.  The females are brown with green backs.  These colours give them good camouflage when sitting on their nests.  They (particularly the males) can be very protective of a food source like a nectar feeder.  It is quite common for us to see two contesting the right to feed at our feeder.  Being brilliant flyers and aerial acrobats they provide us with displays of what we call, “Battle of Britain dogfights” as they whirl in tight circles, darting up and down as they try to chase each other off.

They can also be curious and quite tame, particularly if one is wearing something red or is close to red flowers that are of interest to them.  One day during the summer I was standing near our scarlet runner beans.  The vines were a mass of red blossoms and I could hear the distinctive whirring sound of a hummingbird’s wings.  There he was, about one metre away from me visiting the flowers rather like a honey bee.  I stood still and after a moment or so he turned to face me, hovering while he inspected what he was seeing.  Then to my surprise, he darted toward me and stopped about 15 centimetres (6 inches) from my face.  We had a close look at each other and he then went back to continue his visits to the flowers, unconcerned about my presence.

It has been our custom over the years to take down our nectar feeder at the end of September and store it safely over winter until the next spring.  That has now changed.  Enter the Anna’s Hummingbird (so named after Anna Messéna, Duchess of Rivoli).

Anna's hummingbird (male)

Anna's hummingbird (female)

This little hummer is more commonly seen in some other parts of the province of British Columbia but not here, at least from our personal experience that is so.  Over recent years a growing number of Anna’s hummingbirds have been spending the winter here, rather than going south.  In the summer, apparently, they can be seen along the northern coast and interior of BC.  They are slightly larger than the average hummingbird and are able to withstand the cold better, thus making it possible for them to be all year round residents in some northern climes.  There is speculation why they are choosing to come here for the winter but I have not read anything yet that is certain, except that they are here.  Something that for many years we would never have thought possible is happening – we now have hummingbirds in the winter.

Last week we had our first very cold spell of winter weather, including snow here in the valley.  Strong NE winds brought the wind chill factor of our temperature down to -21ºC at times.  It was so cold that the nectar in our feeder froze.  I made a hurried trip to our local birding store and bought a second feeder so that I could replace as necessary the outside feeder with one with nectar that was at our kitchen room temperature.  Our little Anna’s hummingbirds, who reside in the shelter of our large blue spruce tree made frequent trips to our feeder, hurriedly scooting back to the shelter of the tree afterwards.

Grace urged me to take some photographs and video footage and I positioned myself in a location in our kitchen that gave me a good view of the feeder through the patio door.

Here are some pictures I took on 25 November 2010:

An Anna's hummingbird at our feeder 25Nov10-1

An Anna's hummingbird at our feeder 25Nov10-2

An Anna's hummingbird at our feeder 25Nov10-3

An Anna's hummingbird at our feeder 25Nov10-4

Then I took a video.  Knowing that the birds don’t hang around any longer than they need to take their drinks I hurriedly gave some brief comments about what I was filming and then stopped, expecting it to fly back to the tree.  Did it know that it was being filmed and decided to make the most of its few moments of fame?  It sat on the little perch at the feeder, looking around and taking more drinks.  I allowed the camera to continue running.  Then the compressor motor of the kitchen refrigerator clicked on and started whirring and I thought (after more than one minute had elapsed) that I had better say something else and did.  Finally, our little hummer headed back to the blue spruce.  Here is a link that will take you to that video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LARitOaCTh0

Let me give you another YouTube video link to a video I believe you will enjoy.  It was made professionally and functions not only as a piece of charming information about hummingbirds and their interaction with human beings, but also as an advertisement for Saltery Lodge, a vacation destination in Alaska where it was filmed (yes, some hummingbirds even go as far north as Alaska in the summer).  We hope you enjoy the pictures, videos and this post.  The following link will take you to the Saltery Lodge video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUEZkwJulBY

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About mgouldth

Retired pastor and schoolteacher.
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5 Responses to Hummingbirds – in Winter?

  1. Here’s another cute story of a baby Hummingbird who was rescued. I know from experience that it can be difficult keeping baby birds alive in these circumstances, so this young man did a really good job – and now he has a new little friend, who loves him. [You need to click three times on the video link below].

    • Grace Gouldthorpe says:

      I really love the video that you Lesley posted about the young man and his delightful pet. It’s amazing to see how attached and comfortable the little hummer is with him. I also love the video taken in Alaska. In the bible, God gave Adam the awesome responsibility of taking care of his creatures and it is always heart warming to see videos of human beings with wild creatures.

  2. Ruth says:

    Hummingbirds in winter is indeed special in a Northern climate. I had heard that the Anna’s seemed to be chosing to winter in British Columba. It is speculated as hummingbirds lose habitat in some areas, they learn to adapt and move Northward. Wonderful people like you are certainly helping.

    • mgouldth says:

      Thank you Ruth for your encouraging comment. I have visited your website and am impressed by what you do and offer. Blessings in your endeavours.
      Martin and Grace

  3. Lesley Willey says:

    Lovely, just lovely. Lesley

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