In this recent arctic blast we received on Vancouver Island, we humans muttered our discontent while completely disregarding the climactic devastation happening elsewhere in the world. And Mother Nature was quietly, once again, showing her superiority over us by just how tough she manufactured some of her tiniest creatures.
For the past 8 years or so, we have had one or two couples of Anna’s hummingbirds stay with us. Last year, reportedly one of the mildest winters we’ve ever had, we had two couples stay. I dutifully kept a clean feeder of nectar topped up for them.
So when we woke up on the first frosty morning this year, where temperatures were dipping to -5 degrees Celsius (stop laughing prairie people), to my horror I discovered no less than 20 hummingbirds fighting over 2 frozen feeders. I scrambled to mix up a new batch and hung two more feeders out, bringing in the two frozen ones. That wasn’t going to suffice. I dug around in the basement, coming up with yet another feeder and put it out, followed quickly by one of the thawed ones.
By noon that day, with three of us keeping track, we had a head count of over 30 hungry hummingbirds. The following three days of sub zero temperatures saw me beating a path in and out of the house, multiple times per day, swapping frozen for thawed and refreshed feeders. 30+ hummingbirds and 4 feeders – frankly, I was getting exhausted and needed some help.
I put in a call to the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary and inquired as to whether our house had perhaps attracted a migrating flock and hopefully they would move on when the weather warmed up? The friendly and very helpful young lady on the other end of the phone informed me that no, it was not a migrating flock. She had received several calls from people wanting to know what to do about their frozen hummingbird feeders. One lady even asked if she could put in a few drops of antifreeze! I don’t even know what to say to that one…….
So apparently, with all those frozen hummingbird feeders out there, word had gotten around that a crazy lady in Central Saanich was running her arches off, serving up warm nectar. Hummingbirds are suspected of being telepathic communicators and we were being swarmed. It was like being in a teeny town version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
It was on the last cold day that I discovered a cold, stiff and lifeless body on the deck below one of the feeders. He or she had obviously succumbed to the cold or hit a window or had been bullied to death as hummingbirds can be quite nasty to each other when fighting over a port on the feeder. It was an opportunity to examine one up closely and I placed him or her in my husband’s hands, half jokingly asking him how hard would it be to give a hummingbird mouth to mouth? He continued to hold the little lifeless body while we talked about what to do about the influx of hummingbirds if the weather didn’t improve soon. We were going to a Christmas open house shortly and when he started to put the bird down to go and get ready, he detected a movement. I bent closer to look and saw a small flicker of a transparent, very tiny tongue dart in and out of a needle-sized beak. With a warmed neck pillow, a small feeder with warmed nectar and a full night in a box, this resurrected and very lucky little bird flew to join the others in the morning light.
We’re quite sure we know which little survivor it is at the feeder these days as there is one that seems to be having a particularly bad hair day. The little bird we had rescued had spent the night lying in a pool of spilled nectar and flew to freedom with a sticky, hummingbird-style mohawk haircut of sorts.
It was a good feeling to know we had given back a bit of what we, as a human race, tend to take away far too much. We actually got a lot of entertainment and warm fuzzies from opening up the “Our Place” version for homeless hummingbirds and when the weather finally began its return to normal, some of them headed back to their original nests. Thank goodness! I’m on my fourth 20 lb bag of sugar and our neighbors likely think we’re running a moonshine still operation!
So the next time we start to moan and complain about the cold weather, stop and think about these tiny creatures with hair-thin claws, fragile beaks and unstoppable quest for survival. They are one very tough little critter. If they can find a way to survive by spreading the word and sharing the warmth, what lesson should we humans be taking away from that?
Photo By Wanda Lambeth