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Help The Hummers!

What an earth are hummingbirds doing here on Gabriola in the middle of winter? A number of people will have the Anna’s hummingbird at their feeders this winter and will be wondering why that is. This hummingbird has for some reason been extending its range for years and are commonly seen here year round. This year is a particularly tough one for them due to the unusual amounts of snow and sub zero temperatures.

How do you know if your hummingbird is an Anna’s? (named after Anna Massena, Duchess of Rivoli whose husband was an amateur ornithologist in France in the 1800's) If it is a Hummingbird and it is here now it is almost certain to be an Anna’s but here is a very brief description of the bird.

Male - main identifying feature is the red throat and helmet or crown. This is the only hummingbird with a red crown.

Female - Back, top of head, and two central tail feathers metallic bronze‑green. Forehead sometimes dark grayish brown. Small white spot behind eye. She does have a bit of rose colour in her breast.

Besides being among the smallest of all warm‑blooded animals, hummingbirds also lack the insulating downy feathers that are typical for many other bird species. Due to their combined characteristics of small body size and lack of insulation, hummingbirds rapidly lose body heat to their surroundings. Even sleeping hummingbirds have huge metabolic demands that must be met simply to survive the night when they cannot forage. To meet this energetic challenge, hummingbirds save enough energy to survive cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat at night, becoming hypothermic - or going into torpor. Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%.

By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake. This lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird's night time body temperature is maintained at a hypothermic threshold that is barely sufficient to maintain life. In the morning it takes the hummingbird about 20 minutes to fully awaken and become active and it needs to start feeding right away. On top of all this...this tiny charmer will have it’s young in February and they will be grown and gone in March! All the more reason to keep those feeders going in the winter. The photograph above is taken in Victoria on January 30th...she is incubating her eggs in a cosy snow encrusted nest..

VERY IMPORTANT: Normal ratio for water to sugar is about 4:1. You can and should increase this to a MAXIMUM of 3:1 for feeding the birds at this time of year but please no more than are not helping them and may damage them.

Jean Wyenberg

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