Tiny Warrior Hummingbirds

The Anna’s Hummingbird is Vancouver’s Official Bird, elected to the post in 2017.
I imagine they won by simply staring at the competition like this  . . .

. . . until they withdrew their applications.

All of that avian attitude is certainly in play this week as temperatures plunge far below seasonal norms and snow blankets the Vancouver landscape.

Every morning when I open the back door, I hear a loud and indignant tutting.

I would not be surprised to hear an accompanying request to speak to the manager.

You can see why the Anna’s Hummingbirds might be a bit exasperated. Over the past 70 years, milder winters, flowery gardens and well-tended hummingbird feeders have convinced them to expand their range from southern California to southern BC.

Some time in the 90’s they started to forgo the southern migration and stay here all winter. This week, however, I think they’re wondering if it’s too late to book that package holiday to the sun. They are not alone in that.

Luckily, they’re remarkably tough little birds. Delicate as they look, they have a few winter survival tricks up their iridescently-feathered sleeves.

Unlike other hummingbirds, the Anna’s isn’t solely reliant on nectar for sustenance. Insects, spiders and tree sap broaden their dietary options.

During the cold nights they enter an “energy save” mode, called torpor. During this mini-hibernation, their heart rate slows from a daytime rate of 21 beats per second to a mediative one beat per two seconds. At the same time their body temperature lowers from a toasty 107 degrees to 48.

In spite of their toughness, they could use our help this week.

While temperatures are below freezing for days on end, the insect and tree sap supply is out of commission. Waking up from their night-time torpor, they need breakfast ASAP to top up the energy banks and, right now, hummingbird feeders are their only option. Equipped with formidable memories, these little birds can remember the location of each food source in their territory, and if they get to the feeder in your garden and it’s empty or frozen, they will be very, very disappointed in you . . .

. . . and you certainly don’t want that!

Some tips for keeping your hummingbird feeder thawed and snow-free:

  • Keep at least two feeders so you can keep one in the house thawed and ready to replace the frozen one outside
  • Hang the feeder under cover if possible, or with a bird feeder dome over it to stop the nectar ports from getting snow-covered
  • External heat sources will help to keep the nectar thawed. Ideas include: a trouble light hung nearby, incandescent (the old-style heat-producing) Christmas lights hung around the feeder, hand warmers, mug warmer or aquarium mat (for lizards) taped to bottom of feeder
  • Insulating the feeder with old socks or bubble wrap can help

If the worst happens and you find a hummingbird in distress and too cold or tired to fly, contact your local wildlife rescue. More information here from Wildlife Rescue BC.

If you’d like to read more about these amazing birds, this well-headlined Tyee article by Kerry Banks is full of fun facts:
The Amazingly Cool Anna’s Hummingbird Scoffs at Winter|
Vancouver’s official bird is a sex-crazed, smart, supercharged recent arrival.

 

 

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Crow Therapy, January 2020

 

2020 has left me feeling rather hopeless so far. Everything I’ve thought of writing about seemed trivial to the point of being worthless.

As usual, it took a crow to get me to pull my metaphysical socks up.

It helped, I’m sure, that a day without rain permitted me and my air cast to venture out past the confines of the back yard.

It been early December since I’ve been able to get around far enough to check on the corvid situation and I was happy to get out and see Mabel and family, Art and the gang and Ada the young crow.

I’m not sure why, but it was Ada who adjusted my mindset.

I’d been thinking that posting pictures of crows and other birds on social media, even making art from my bird images, seemed just so inadequate. I should make more impactful, statement-making art.  I should quit taking photographs altogether and devote myself to action for climate, social and political justice.

Possibly all of those things are true, but Ada pointed out that sometimes the best thing you can do is keep on keeping on with the small, hopeful projects.

My photographing and writing about my local crows is unlikely to change the world.

I do have small, subversive ambitions. I hope that my words and images create familiarity with other species … leading to love and protective instincts … leading to action.

So, here is Ada.

She came down to see me and I put some peanuts down for her, but she was being intimidated by some more senior crows. She was tempted, I could see, to fly away and leave them to it, but she stood her ground.

You can see she gives a nervous little wing flap after the other crow caws above her, but ultimately decides to stick it out. She did get the peanuts in the end.

So, there you are. Just another little bird anecdote.

More coming in 2020.

If you feel you need daily #crowtherapy or #birdtherapy you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook, where I try to post at least once a day.

Ada also wanted me to pass this on. If you’d like to help out the countless creatures displaced and injured by the fires in Australia, you can donate to WIRES, an Australian non-profit wildlife rescue association. To help people who have lost everything in the bush fires, you can donate to the New South Wales Rural Fire service.