What a tough time it was for all the birds when the snow began to fall, covering their many sources of food, but the one bird we had the most inquires about was the Anna’s Hummingbird. It is a sight to see a small fragile little bird like a hummingbird zips past the window when there is a foot of snow on the ground, but they are tough and have survived cold winters before.
A common question when a hummingbird is seen in the winter months is, what is this bird doing here, shouldn’t it have migrated south? No, the Anna’s Hummingbird is a non migratory bird so they do not fly south and we get to enjoy hummingbirds all year long.
I believe that the sightings of the Anna’s
Hummingbird in the Nanaimo area was in the early 70’s and were seen in the
Stephenson Point and Sherwood Forest area. Usually the hummingbirds are seen
along the waterfront where the climate is a bit warmer but over the years as
the population has grown we have received reports of Anna’s Hummingbirds from
many new areas of
It is amazing how a tiny and fragile bird can survive the winter, they need to consume a lot of nutrients to survive. Nectar or sugar water has no nutritional value but it provides energy for the hummingbirds while they find other food like small soft-bodied bugs, and tree sap for their nutrients. Sometimes you may even see a hummingbird at a spider’s web, picking small insects out of it. Since the hummingbirds are burning so many calories they feed on nectar or sugar water every 10 to 20 minutes to keep them going. Each hummingbird will consume their weight in nectar, which is roughly 3 grams. A human with the same high metabolic rate would have to consume twice their body weight or about 150,000 calories, if they were to do what a hummingbird does each day. Hummingbirds use so much energy, in normal flight a hummingbird beats its wings 53 times per second to a maximum of 80 beats per second. Their wings can rotate one hundred and eighty degrees and move in a figure eight pattern, allowing them to move forward, backwards, up, down and hover like a helicopter. With all this work their heart rate is approximately 1250 beats per minute.
During the winter there are not many nectar providing flowers around for the hummingbirds to feed on, so hummingbirds will depend on the hummingbird feeders through the winter months. The sugar water solution I use in my hummingbird feeder is one (1) part sugar to three (3) parts water. Use only white table sugar when making your nectar mix, do not use honey, as this is fatal to hummingbirds. Also do not use any red food colouring, as this is also bad for the hummingbirds and not necessarily needed. Your feeders will need to be cleaned on a regular basis still and always keep the mixture fresh. The Anna’s Hummingbirds arrive early each morning, around seven o’clock, to get their boost of energy to start the day and a cold drink on a cold day does not go down well. Bring your feeders at night, at dark, this will keep the sugar water from freezing and warm it up to room temperature which will give the hummingbirds a good start to a cold morning. If your feeder freezes during the day, have a second feeder available to replace it with while the other thaws out. To keep things really warm place your hummingbird feeder below a light bulb or heat lamp to keep it from freezing. During the real cold of winter it may also be necessary to remove the perches from your hummingbird feeder. This will make the hummingbirds hover to feed and the movement will keep their body temperature up.
During the day hummingbirds are constantly looking for food to survive the cold nights. Then at night hummingbirds have to find a place to roost, that is out of the wind and protected from rain and snow. This may be in shrubs and evergreen trees or in a corner next to the house or a window. Our neighbours were lucky to have a couple of hummingbirds roost in their greenhouse to escape the elements. For a hummingbird it is tough to keep warm especially since they do not have any down feathers, so at night to conserve energy a hummingbird will go into a hypothermic stat known as torpor. This internal mechanism hummingbird will slow and lower their body temperature and metabolic rate so the hummingbird can conserve enough energy to survive the night and a little extra to start the morning.
Hummingbirds are such amazing little creatures and we have the privilege of enjoying them all year round. In less than three months the Rufous Hummingbirds will be returning, a sign of spring.
Here are some additional tips to help keep your hummingbird nectar from freezing:
- Incandescent lights are your best friend. If you can find a string of incandescent Christmas lights you can wrap them around the hummingbird feeders to limit freezing. If you have a mechanic's trouble light you can put an incandescent bulb in it and point it at the feeder to provide heat.
- Insulation against the wind helps limit freezing. Some customer's have used old wool socks, bubble wrap, towels, etc. wrapped around the hummingbird feeder to help limit the chill and provide some insulation. This method works even better if you're able to add some hand warmer packets against the bottle.
- Swapping out hummingbird feeders (e.g. one outside while one is inside thawing). This method can require swapping every hour depending on how cold it is. When thawing out your hummingbird feeder please ensure you have "mixed" the solution prior to putting it back outside as the solution can experience separation when frozen (e.g. you will see two layers- one sugar concentrated solution on the bottom and a watery layer on the top).
- Commercial hummingbird feeder heaters. These electric devices are very convenient and often contain a low wattage incandescent bulb and a way to affix the heater to your feeder (some heaters may come with a pre-attached feeder).
- Domes and other overhead cover can help retain heat around your hummingbird feeder.