As the darlings of the avian world, and superathletes in their own right, it seems like hummingbirds have always been here in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada--but until the mid-1960s, they were an unknown quantity here. That changed when bird lovers, wanting to see these flying jewels in their backyards, planted hummingbird-friendly flowers and trees in their gardens further and further north to encourage them to visit. My sighting of a small, verdant creature, wings beating at a furious clip, moving quickly from the picnic bench to the fruit trees in the backyard during one rainy evening in February 2014, marked my introduction to these little dynamos. Incredibly, it did a complete circuit of the backyard foliage--covering 65 feet in seconds. I was immediately enthralled, and started to read everything I could get my hands on about these tiny birds.



Evening shot of male Anna's Hummingbird on the plum tree. Taken in the late June 2016, when 4-6 young male Rufous hummingbirds showed up. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.

The adult male hummingbirds, with their beautifully iridescent throats and crowns, are extremely territorial, guarding flower and feeder against the competition as if their lives depended on it--and, with a hyperactive metabolism that demands that they eat every 15 minutes or face starvation--that may well be the literal truth. The nectar that these tiny pollinators ingest from flowers and sugar water--using tongues as long as a woodpecker's--is distributed to 100% of their muscles in seconds; human athletes would be envious. Their heart rate is 200-250 beats per minute at rest, and well over 1,000 beats per minute when feeding on the wingTo cope with their incredible energy burn rates, hummingbirds have to enter torpor every night, a state of hibernation that slows their respiration and heart rates to a fraction of their active levels. That these New World birds can live to 8 years (or more) with all their challenges is a further testament to their amazing adaptability.


Closeup of a Rufous hummingbird (either a juvenile male or a female) on the plum tree. Taken in mid-June 2016. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.

Hummingbirds lead solitary lives; unless you have been fortunate to either witness a lek (group) of male hummingbirds courting females, or live on their migration path, in which case you may be inundated with dozens or even hundreds of these flying jewels every day. I have read of and talked to other hummingbird enthusiasts who go through 25 lb of sugar in 2-3 days to keep up with the demand at their feeders during the peak of the spring and summer seasons. The females are single mothers who ingeniously and painstakingly construct tiny nests--no bigger in size than a dime--from scratch with nothing more than lichen, moss, cotton, spider's silk, and shape them with bill, wings, tail and feet, to raise and fledge a clutch of two. I have been privileged to see nests with infanticipating mothers on them, but alas, no hatchlings so far.



A recently fledged juvenile Anna's Hummingbird perches on a stalk of anise hyssop while drinking nectar from an anise hyssop flower. Taken in early July 2015. © W.H. Sim. All Rights Reserved.

It took six weeks from the time I bought my first hummingbird feeder to see the second hummingbird in the backyard in April 2014; this was a fully adult male Anna's hummingbird with a gorgeous raspberry balaclava. Over the past two years, the landscape of the garden has radically changed to feature six strategically-placed feeders of varying shapes and sizes (sporting nectar solutions of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar) and a multitude of hummingbird-friendly flowers, including the very popular anise hyssop (hummingbird mint), bee balm, lemon frost, butterfly bush, scarlet trumpetvine, kniphofia, cardinal flowers, lobelia, jasmine stephanense, and fragrant honeysuckle, to name a few. I have also discovered that hummingbirds are also partial to flowering arugula, chives, onion, blackberry, radicchio, and raspberry. Just about anything that produces a flower is worth investigating for its sugar content.
 

A Rufous hummingbird (most likely a juvenile male) feeds from the anise hyssop. Taken in late May 2016. © W.H. Sim. All Rights Reserved.


The migratory Rufous hummingbirds who visit in spring and summer are the second species of hummingbird we see here in Metro Vancouver. Even smaller than the resident Anna's (who can tough out Pacific Northwest winters like no other hummingbird species!), Rufouses are tiny but extremely feisty red/orange hummingbirds who often engage each other as well as the larger Anna's in spectacular territorial battles. 

A male Rufous Hummingbird flashes his gorget at me on a feeder at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Taken in May 2016. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.

This year, I have seen even more Anna's and Rufous hummingbirds in the backyard than usual, even though the latter have been later in arriving than in the previous two years. To witness one hovering as it feeds from flowers is pure poetry in motion. I hope they continue to amaze me for many more years to come. ✍️

Published by Hui Sim