Having been named nymphs, comets, fairies, sunbeams, and woodstars by the first explorers to discover them, hummingbirds have been named by the “whir” of their wings. These tiny and fast flying birds cannot be missed by their stiletto bill and helicopter-like ability to fly in any direction, hence being the only bird known that can fly backwards. The hummingbirds ability to flap there wings 70-80 times per second allows hummingbirds to hover and lap up nectar with their tongues from wild flowers and desirable forage.
On Vancouver Island there are two species of hummingbird, the Rufous hummingbird and the Anna’s Hummingbird. While it is common for Anna’s hummingbirds to nest and overwinter locally, Rufous hummingbirds are migratory leaving their wintering grounds in Mexico flying their way north to the Pacific Northwest as far as Alaska to breed in the spring and summer, only to depart again prior to autumn.
It is a common trait of hummingbirds to be quite feisty and quarrelsome with each other, and the Rufous and Anna’s species are no exception. It is common to see hummingbirds bullying each other over territory, especially in an area that is rich in forage. With this, hummingbird courtship can be a spectacular sight with males flying upwards to 15 meters and then diving down at top speed only to pull up at the last moment before hitting the ground to complete a U-shape pattern; this pattern will often be repeated several times in hopes to court a female.
Male and female hummingbirds of both species can be distinguished by their colouring and marking on their feathers. The Rufous male is almost entirely orange, with a glistening orange-red throat patch. The Rufous female is green with a white underside, rufous sides, and small spots on the throat. The Anna’s hummingbird male is green with a metallic rose-red crown and throat; while the female is almost entirely green with a white underside and spots of red on the throat.
Feeding & Attracting Hummingbirds
While growing natural forage for hummingbirds is preferred, providing them with a feeder is a great alternative especially if limited by space and/or in urban areas. It is best to select a feeder that is red somewhere on it with several ports for easier access for the hummers.
- Regular Cleaning (at least every week) is key to prevent mold and bacteria from building up in the feeder. Clean the feeder with a brush and hot water with a little vinegar to discourage mold. This is an important step as poorly cleaned feeders pose a health hazard to hummingbirds.
- Hummingbirds can get fatal hardening of the liver from eating a heavy sugar solution. The recommended solution is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Best practice is to boil the water and stir in the sugar, then remove from heat and let cool before filing you feeder.
Hummingbirds are most attracted to nectar-rich plants that are bright red or orange in colour with tubular shaped blossoms. Having a variety of forage sources that have staggering bloom times throughout the season will create a more permanent hummingbird garden.
Flowering Plants that Attract Hummingbirds:
Pollinator Partnership - Hummingbirds