Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Winter Hummingbirds


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 Nanaimo, Nanoose Bay and Parksville.

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.


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Vancouver Island Christmas Bird Count 2021/2022

The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) started in the 1900's and is now North America's largest running citizen-science project. Data from each CBC contributes to the world's largest set of wildlife records, and the information collected by thousands of volunteer participants each year is used by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess population trends and distribution of birds. 

Each year the CBC is conducted on a single day between December 14 and January 5. Regions are divided into multiple 24km diameter circles that are counted each year and are managed at the local level (often by a local birding club or naturalist organization). Volunteers can help count birds as a member of an assigned area on count day, or birds can be counted from the comfort of your own home. It is recommended that volunteers prepare to commit part-of or all of count day as either a field observer or feeder watcher within their count circle. Field observers count all birds they can find within their count circle on their own or with a small group, while feeder watchers will count birds in their yard for a portion of the day.

Below you will find information about count dates and organizer contact information for central Vancouver Island. For Nanoose, Parksville/ Qualicum Beach and Nanaimo you can download a CBC checklist to record the birds seen visiting your feeders. This year for Nanoose, Parksville/ Qualicum Beach and Nanaimo they are requesting data be submitted via their new online system, or email your count records to the coordinator for your zone. If you are looking to volunteer as a field observer, please reach out to your zone coordinator to discuss your options.


December 17, 2021

Contact Joe Crichton (

Download the 2021 Christmas Bird Count Check List 

Submit CBC Observations

Parksville/Qualicum Beach

December 19, 2021

Contact Susan Knoerr (

Download the 2021 Christmas Bird Count Check List 

Submit CBC Observations


December 19, 2021

Contact Robert Hay (


December 27, 2021

Contact Heidi Van Vliet (

Download the 2021 Christmas Bird Count Check List 

Submit CBC Observations


January 3, 2022

Contact Gail Mitchell (

If you're interested in participating in the CBC for 2021/2022 but we didn't include information for your count area please follow the link below to access information for all CBC count zones in British Columbia:

Information for other count locations

Thursday, June 24, 2021


With the hot dry days of summer now here providing a fresh source of water is a great way to attract the bird to your backyard or patio. If having a bird feeder is not allowed in your area, try supplying a source of water in the summer and winter to attract the birds. A source of water will attract a great variety of birds whether they are visiting the feeder or not and during the summer a source of water may be a greater attraction than your feeder.

Offering the birds a supply of water is as easy as a shallow dish or tray. A birdbath or water dish should be a shallow bowl and has a gradual slope to the center, to make it easy for the birds to wade into because songbirds do not swim like a duck. If you have a birdbath or water dish that is deep, simply add some stones to the birdbath to create shallow pools within it. These little pools will make it easier for the songbirds to use your birdbath.

When deciding on where to locate your birdbath, consider placing it in an open area where the birds can see the birdbath and any predators. Also try and have trees or shrubs near by, eight or ten feet away. This way the birds have somewhere close to hide if a predator shows up or just a place to perch and preen. Some birds will have a little difficulty flying after a bath, as they are water logged, so these close perches are handy. Do not place the birdbath to close to the shrubs and ground cover, as this will give predators, like cats, an advantage to simply pounce on the unsuspecting birds. Having that bit of space between the shrubs and the birdbath means the cat will be seen and give the birds that split second they need to escape.

Adding a birdbath to your backyard does not always mean instant birds, they need time to find something new, such as a birdbath or feeder. To help the birds find the birdbath easily, add the sound of moving water. Birds have great hearing and the sound of moving water will help attract the birds. There are many ways to create the sound of moving water. There are birdbath drippers that sit in the birdbath and attach to the garden hose. A small drip of water is all that is needed for the birds to hear and find the water and it also keeps the birdbath topped up and fresh. As the drip is slow, water consumption is very minimal. Some drippers come as a spray that allows the birds to fly through the water to bathe, something hummingbirds like. Other ways to create a dripper is with a pop bottle or jug. Poke a pinhole into the bottom, fill with water and hang above the birdbath. Just fill the bottle when empty.

Cleaning is also important, as diseases may be transferred between birds. Using the cleaning solution that is used for the feeders, 1 part bleach mixed with 9 parts water, also works great for cleaning and sterilizing the birdbath. It is best to regularly clean the birdbath, 2 or 3 times a week or every time the birdbath is filled. Cleaning the birdbath every few days will also help to eliminate the possibility of mosquitoes laying eggs in your birdbath, as a mosquitoes eggs hatch in about four days after being laid.

A fresh water supply is another way to encourage and enjoy the many species of birds in your backyard and adding the sound of moving water will also add to the relaxing atmosphere in the backyard and attract the birds.

Happy birding!!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

What is that bird? Molting at your backyard feeders

What is that bird? Molting at your backyard feeders 

Plumage is the word used to describe the feathers on a bird. It is the variety of plumages we see on bird species that attract us, from the bright yellow of a male American goldfinch in the summer, to the mottled brown and greys of a great horned owl.  Possessing feathers makes birds unique from all other animals, as they are the only animal world-wide that has feathers.

                Birds around the world have a variety of different plumages, ranging from very colourful to very subdued, and each variation has its own purpose. Plumage colour can vary from species to species, or differ between males, females, or juveniles of the same species. For example, male house finches are a striking peachy-red in your backyard, while the females have predominantly grey/ brown streaks for colouring. Spotted Towhees and Dark-eyed Juncos are great examples of birds where the juvenile appears similar to the adults but also different as the juveniles have a surplus of brown streaks compared to their adult counterparts.

                For some species of birds their plumage will change depending on the time of year, with the most noticeable change occurring when birds shed their brightly coloured breeding plumage to don their winter plumage. The bright-coloured plumages we see on some birds in the summer can take a lot of energy to produce, a process made easier when nutritious food is naturally available. But as summer comes to an end birds naturally molt (replace old feathers with new) to become more energy efficient in the fall and winter, when natural food can be hard to find. Sometimes post-molt the birds we recognized so easily in the spring and summer can become harder to identify; for example the once canary-yellow male American goldfinch will become a greyish-yellow in the winter. Or the European starling, recognized for its glossy black iridescent feathers and yellow bill, becomes a black bird with copious white spots and a dark coloured bill in the fall.

Molting American goldfinch (Google)

                Molting for most birds will happen twice a year- in the spring birds will molt from their winter plumage to their breeding plumage, and then in the fall they will lose their breeding plumage in favour of their winter plumage. For juvenile birds they will undergo a molt where they will lose their juvenile plumage and start to look more like the adult of their species. For some birds the transition from juvenile plumage to adult plumage can happen the same year they hatched, or years later after they mature. When birds molt it can sometimes be difficult to identify them, as some birds can naturally lose large patches of feathers before the new feathers grow in, creating bald spots and making them look a little rough. The good news is that although the birds look disheveled, they are still able to fly, even if they’re missing a lot of their feathers.

Molting Bluejay (google)

                For some birds molting is serious business and can make them vulnerable to predation. Most songbirds will undergo a partial molt in which they only molt some feathers, allowing them to still fly. But for some water-fowl, like Mallards and Canadian Geese, undergo a complete molt, where they replace every one of their flight feathers during a single molt period.  During a complete molt you often will find waterfowl staying close to water, as they are unable to fly until their flight feathers grow back. A quick wander around Buttertubs Marsh, you will notice there are no brightly coloured male Mallards or male Wood Ducks, but what looks to be an excess of their female counterparts.  Male ducks have what is known as eclipse plumage, where they closely resemble the females after they have lost their brightly coloured breeding plumage.

Wood duck male in breeding plumage vs. eclipse plumage (Photo:natruallycurious)

                A bird’s plumage serves multiple purposes from courting, camouflage or simply to keep a bird warm when the weather is cold or dry when it rains. Plumage can also be used for communication, especially during territorial disputes. This can be seen with male Red-winged Blackbirds that will use the red and yellow spots on their wings to show dominance in territorial displays with other males.  Biologists have used the patterns of molting feathers to help us understand bird behaviour, changes in nutrition in a bird’s seasonal diet, and to help us understand how old a bird is. There are a lot of reasons why a bird will undergo a molt, and types of molting varies widely across birds species. You can easily witness how birds change their plumage seasonally by watching the birds visiting your backyard feeder. Over the next couple of weeks some signs of molting will be obvious, like the colour change for the male American goldfinch. But for most birds molting will be subtle, perhaps a couple feathers missing here and there as they all prepare for the change in season.

Dark-eyed Junco growing new wing feathers and a red-tailed hawk missing some feathers. Two subtle signs of molting. (Photos: Google)

 Thank you and happy birding!


Are you curious about how changes in plumage can be used for aging birds? Check out the work of VIU Professor Dr. Demers and the VIU Bird Banding Station.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Get Ready for Hummingbirds - Colin Bartlett

Written by Colin Bartlett

Are you ready for the arrival of the hummingbirds? In the Nanaimo area it is around the middle of March that the Rufous Hummingbirds return. My rule of thumb is to have to hummingbird feeder out for the birds the first week of March for any early birds that may arrive. Also watch for when the Red Flowering Currant blooms as this is another indication as to when the hummingbirds will be arriving, they are usually feeding at these plants within a couple of days of them blooming.

To prepare your hummingbird feeders first give them a good cleaning using a cleaning solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. This will help to disinfect it for a clean start. Cleaning your hummingbird feeder is very important so look for a feeder that can be taken apart easily and cleaned.
If placing out a new feeder I recommend placing it in a spot that is easy to view and can be close to the house. My hummingbird feeders are in the morning sun and the hummingbirds are there first thing, so don’t think the feeder needs to be in the shade so the solution won’t ferment as the solution needs to be changed at least once a week. Also have the feeder in an open area where the hummingbirds can see it as they do find their food sources by sight. A hummingbird sees their food source through their ultra violet vision and red stands out when seen in their ultra violet sight as a food source, and this is why hummingbird feeders are red in colour. Other bright colours also work but if you are having trouble attracting hummingbirds to a feeder that is not red, try wrapping a red ribbon tightly around the bottle to help catch the hummingbirds eye. Once the hummingbirds have found the feeder remove the ribbon as the hummingbirds now know that this is a food source.
Hummingbirds have a great memory and return to the exact location of where the hummingbird feeders were hanging last year. Moving a hummingbird feeder to a new location may take the hummingbirds a little time to find it in t he new location. It may be easier to place the feeder in its original location and once the hummingbirds have returned slowly move the feeder along to the new location and the hummingbirds will follow.

Now that the hummingbirds have found the feeder I recommend a sugar water mixture of  (1) one part white sugar to (3) three parts water, and it is not required to add food colouring to your sugar water mix, as this can cause throat infections in the hummingbirds. Do not use commercial honey when making your nectar mix, as this can also be harmful to the hummingbirds. If making a large quantity of mix you can bottle and store the remainder in the refrigerator but only for a couple of weeks and then make a new sugar water mix. Hummingbirds are attacked to the sweetness, but I do not recommend using a sweeter mixture other than the one to three this time of year. If you make your nectar mixture stronger it will attract more birds but you could also be harming them. Backyard bird feeding is a supplementary feeding, it is not to replace the natural feed.

Since the sugar water mixture does ferment you will need to change mixture about every 5 days and every 3 days during hot weather. Frequently cleaning helps to keep mold from growing which affects the sugar water solution, and the health of the birds.

If ants and wasps are a nuisance the only way to eliminate them is to find a hummingbird feeder that does not leak. It is the food source, or sugar water, that leaks from the feeder that attract the ants and wasps.

The Rufous Hummingbirds are the busiest when they first arrive in March and into April but this busy activity will subside around the end of April as the males will established their territories and the females are beginning to nest. When the young fledge the activity around the feeders will be busy again in June and July before they begin their journey back south.

If you are in an area where the hummingbirds are plentiful you can estimate how many hummingbirds are visiting your feeders by how many cups of sugar water are used in a day. For every cup of sugar water used in a day, 65 hummingbirds are visiting your feeders. In some areas we know of backyard birders going through five or six cups of sugar water a day, that’s almost four hundred hummingbirds flying around the backyard.

With March now upon us it is time to get you hummingbird feeder out.

Good birding!!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Clear Skies – the Planets and two minor meteor showers

Thank you D. Prud'homme for these amazing facts about what is being seen in our nights skies this week!

Venus is once again an evening “star.”  You will find it shining in the west just after sunset.  Over the next several weeks Venus will climb higher in the sky.  You can’t miss it, as it is the brightest object in that part of the sky.

Jupiter is now rising in the east around 10 p.m.  If you are up early enough, you can catch it just before it sets in the southwest around 7 a.m.  You can’t really mistake Jupiter, since, like Venus, it will be the brightest object low in that part of the sky.  On Monday, April 30, a full Moon will be just to the upper right of Jupiter, and the next day further to the left.  You will note that Jupiter is bright enough to be easily seen even with the glare of the full Moon.

Mars and Saturn are both rising in the east about 2 a.m., however they are still very nicely visible in the south before the Sun rises.  Mars is the brighter of the two, and it is just left of Saturn.

Mars will continue to brighten until mid-summer!  Earth’s orbit is closer to the Sun than Mars, so it takes Earth less time to complete one orbit around the Sun (which is the definition of our year).  For comparison, Mars’ “year” is 778 days.  As Earth “catches up” to Mars, the distance between them goes down until it overtakes Mars, so Mars is actually closer to Earth and shines more brightly.  Remember that it is shining because of sunlight reflecting off it.

Saturn and Mars have a similar situation.  The distance in the sky between them will increase from morning to morning because Mars’ orbit is much shorter than Saturn’s.  The distance between them will clearly increase over the next few weeks, as Mars moves further and further to the left

While you are in that area, look for the bright star that is about the width of your outstretched hand at arm’s length above and slightly left of Mars.  That is Altair, the lowest of the three bright stars that make up the so-called Summer Triangle.  The other two bright stars are much higher up - Deneb on the left and Vega on the right.  Vega, in the constellation Lyra, is the third brightest star visible in the northern hemisphere.

The Moon will be close to Saturn and Mars from May 4-6.  On the 4th, the Moon will be just to the right of Saturn; on the 5th, half way between the two of them and just a bit higher; and on the 6th you will find Mars just to the lower right of the Moon.

If you are up in the hour or so before sunrise, look for Mercury low to the eastern horizon.  It will be at its best on April 29, and will then rise closer and closer to the Sun, making it harder to see.  However, just before 6 a.m. on May 13, you can try to catch a very thin crescent Moon, with Mercury just to its upper left.  This will be a challenge with the morning twilight, but a thin crescent can be very pretty, especially since the rest of the disk of the Moon will be slightly lit up from sunlight reflecting off Earth!

Meteor showers

There are two minor meteor showers coming up, both of which might provide a few nice meteors across the sky if you spend a bit of time watching.  Remember to dress warmly and view the largest patch of sky you can see with the least light around you.

The first one is this Saturday and Sunday (Apr 21/22).  The peak is during the day on Saturday, but Saturday throughout the night or Sunday evening may give you the best possibility of seeing a few.  These are the so called Lyrids, as they appear to originate near the constellation Lyra, of which Vega (mentioned above) is its brightest star.

The so-called Eta-Aquarids (originating near the constellation Aquarius) peak about midnight, Friday, May 4.  So watching during that night may provide you with a few lovely meteors.  There are, however, no guarantees!

In both cases, you don’t need to be able to see the constellation itself, as the meteors may be seen almost anywhere in the sky.

Clear skies.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday bird walk cancelled

This Sunday bird walk, January 28, 2018 is cancelled due to wet weather. 

Please Note

Check this site( early Tuesday and Sunday mornings on stormy mornings to see if the walks have been cancelled!


The Tuesday Bird walk on January 30, 2018, will be going the Shelly Road side of the Englishman River Estuary in Parksville. Meet at the Parksville Community Park (at the parking lot in front of the Lions Club Playground) at 9:00 a.m. or at the end of Shelly Road (on the oceanside of highway 19A) at about 9:10 a.m.

Good birding
Neil Robins


6314 Metral Drive
Nanaimo B.C.
Phone: 250-390-3669
Fax: 250-390-1633