Cold Snaps – A Risk for Hummingbirds

Posted January 15, 2020 by Vindi Sekhon

Yes, I want to help save Hummingbirds

Did you know that Anna’s Hummingbirds are the only hummingbird who live year-round on the Pacific coast? Typically, during the winter months, hummingbirds would migrate south to avoid the harsh winters following insect populations and flowering food sources. Recently, hummingbirds have been staying behind due to natural and human changes that have altered their behaviors.

How do Hummingbirds Survive?

Hummingbirds need to eat A LOT, almost constantly. It may surprise you that such a small species who weighs about the size of a loonie has a high demand for food sources. Hummingbirds can consume half their weight in pure sugar every day. Nectar fuels hummingbird’s metabolism – the highest of an endothermic animal on the earth. Although these food sources are readily available in the spring and summer, winter becomes challenging. Insects and nectar-bearing flowering plants are scarce during freezing temperatures.

Why do they stay in the winter?

  • Species might be an early or late migrant seeing spring as a benefit in claiming a territory to attract a mate
  • They could have been delayed on its autumn migration
  • Younger birds could get trapped in winter areas because of their inexperience with migration
  • They can fall victim to storms or other factors that push them off their migratory route and into winters path
  • Humans have taken an interest in providing food sources to attract these beautiful birds

How do Hummingbird Preserve Energy?

Hummingbirds can easily go into torpor on cold nights. Torpor is a deep sleep where an animal decreases its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing this, the hummingbird consumes less energy than it would if it were awake. The lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooling body temperature.

A torpid state allows them to conserve energy to survive lower temperatures faced in the winter when food sources are scarce. They also can change their diets in the winter to eat more insects when nectar flow is not available through feeders and natural sources.

What to do if you find Hummingbirds in Distress – four areas of concern:

  • Passing Out – The bird lands on the feeder, then after eating, it passes out from the cold and falls in the snow. We have advised the public to use a towel to pick up the bird and place in a box with air holes and place the feeder in the box with them, close it, and bring indoors, to a warm dark or dim, QUIET place where they will not be disturbed for the night.
  • Hummingbird is in my house – If the hummingbird is in your house, you can lure it towards an exit with a hummingbird feeder or play sounds of a hummingbird from your phone drawing it to the door. This will require patience and commitment.
  • Hummingbird struck my window – Use a towel to pick up the bird, place in a box with air holes, and bring to Wildlife Rescue as soon as possible. Window strikes can cause non-visible injuries, so we need to do a health check.
  • Feeders Freezing – We recommend people get a couple of feeders, keep one inside and alternate them. There is an option to purchase feeder heaters at local bird stores, such as Birds Unlimited, or online. These are neat contraptions that attach to the feeder and keep it warm, so the syrup doesn’t freeze. Other ways to warm the feeders could be by attaching a bowl of hot water to the feeder, or even an incandescent lightbulb. You can also tape hand warmers to the feeder to keep it from freezing and might be easier than the light. To learn more about how to take care of your hummingbird feeder in the winter read here.

With severe weather and a drastic drop in temperature, you may find hummingbirds or other animals in distress. Please contact our Support Centre for assistance. Wildlife Rescue Support Centre will share best practices for the safety and survival of the animal. For additional information, visit our website here.

Some signs to watch for in the bird species are on the ground, weak, confused, soiled, tongue sticking out, visible injuries, or unable to fly. Please bring it to Wildlife Rescue as soon as possible.

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