How to help hummingbirds during Vancouver Island’s cold snap

How to help hummingbirds during Vancouver Island's cold snap
Debbie Lawrence
WatchAnna's hummingbirds don't migrate for winter and aren't used to snow and cold. Tess van Straaten looks at how to help hummingbirds in a cold snap.

The big blast of winter on Vancouver Island in the last week has people trying to help hummingbirds.

“With this bad weather, all this snow we’re having, it’s really tough on all the song birds,” explains Colin Bartlett of Nanaimo’s Backyard Wildbird Store. “Natural seed is getting covered up from all this so the birds are getting less food sources to get that energy to survive at night.”

Birds — and especially delicate hummingbirds — are struggling to find food in the cold snap.

Anna’s hummingbirds are the northernmost-living hummingbird in the world and the only species to live year-round on the Pacific Coast.

But they’re not used to all the freezing temperatures and snow we’ve had this week.

The Wildlife Rescue Association’s already more than 75 calls about distressed, freezing or starving hummingbirds this week — as people go to great lengths to help them.

“People have been awesome in taking care of their birds, especially hummingbirds in this cold spell,” says bird expert Ann Nightingale. 

From wrapping socks around feeders and using Tim Horton’s cups as insulators to keeping feeders from freezing with incandescent bulbs and even Christmas lights, Islanders are getting creative.

“If you have some old incandescent Christmas light strands, ball them up and put them under the hummingbird feeder and turn them on,” Bartlett advises.Taping hand warmers to feeders is another trick when temperatures plunge.

Bird experts say it’s important to help hummingbirds in wintry weather so they don’t die.

“Birds don’t become dependent on feeders but they’ll take any help they can get to survive these colder night,” says Bartlett.

Along with putting the feeder in a sheltered area, experts advise having at least two feeders, so you can leave one out overnight and swap it with a fresh one in the morning.

If you do find a hummer that looks dead, experts say to bring it inside to warm up.

“Hummingbirds go into a state of torpor overnight and what happens is their heart rate slows way way down, breathing slows down, and almost go into state of hibernation so if find what looks like a dead hummingbird best thing to do is put it in a box.” advises Nightingale. “Put a feeder inside the box and cover it with a towel and let it be.”

Nightingale says the birds will often wake up and start moving again and then you can take the box outside and set them free.

“People in Victoria and B.C. are really attached to their hummingbirds and if we can give them a hand, it doesn’t hurt,” she says.

Photo credit: Terry & Carol Combs
Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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