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Weekly with Daly: Spotlight on Hummingbirds

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Weekly with Daly: Spotlight on Hummingbirds

The Weekly with Daly is a regular column about the musings of the nursery written by our in-house wildlife observer and passionate conservationist, Julia Daly.

April 7, 2022

Did you know that two species of hummingbirds are found on Southern Vancouver Island? 

During the spring and summer, both the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) and Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) can be seen on the island zipping and zooming about their fast-past lives. Hummingbirds are attracted to brightly coloured, tubular-shaped flowers, especially those with red and yellow hues. But did you know that hummingbirds do not exclusively consume flower nectar? They also eat small insects and spiders, and even tree sap gleaned from holes drilled by sapsuckers.

Rufous hummingbirds are summer residents in our region. This species winters in the southern U.S. and Mexico and breeds from northern California to southern Alaska, giving them the distinction of having the longest migration route of any North American hummingbird. Rufous hummingbirds arrive on Vancouver Island in early March to coincide with the blossoming of Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) and follow the blooms northward up the coast. Adults leave the BC coast in July to migrate back south, while their offspring follow in August. Rufous hummingbirds are the northernmost representative of the largely neotropical Trochilidae family of hummingbirds. 


 

Figure 2 (left). Male Rufous hummingbirds have rusty-orange (rufous) backs, tails and underparts with iridescent orange-red throats (called gorgets). 

Figure 2 (right). Female Rufous hummingbirds have green upperparts and crowns with rufous flanks and undertails. Photo courtesy of Brian Starzomski.

Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) are now year-round residents in our region. Their original range along the Pacific coast extended from Baja California to San Francisco Bay; however, over the past 70 years, their range has expanded north to Vancouver Island and east to Arizona! Increased use of exotic flowering plants and hummingbird feeders may help explain this remarkable range expansion. This species is an early breeder. Females regularly nest in February, surviving on early-blooming species like June plum (Oemleria cerasiformis). They can survive short periods of severe cold by converting ingested sugar to fat or entering torpor. 

Figure 3 (left). Male Anna’s hummingbirds have green backs, greyish underparts and iridescent rose-red crowns and throats. Photo courtesy of Ian Cruickshank.

Figure 4 (right). Female Anna’s hummingbird visiting a Mock Orange shrub. Females have a similar green colour pattern except their outer tail feathers have white tips and their throats only have tiny spots of red. 

With both species it is the female that constructs the nest, which are placed on branches 6-30 feet off the ground near a source of nectar. Nests are constructed of plant down and spider webs and camouflaged on the outside with lichen, moss and tree bark (figure 5). You can support these incredible pollinators by planting species with rich sources of nectar like:

  • Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)
  • Canada Mint (Mentha arvensis)
  • Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)
  • Hedge Nettle (Stachys chamissonis)
  • June Plum/Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis)
  • Mock Orange (Philadelpus lewisii)
  • Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
  • Orange Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa)
  • Hairy Honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula)
  • Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
  • Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)
  • Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
  • Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)

Plant one or many of the species to invite a hummingbird over today! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Weekly with Daly.

Signing off,

Julia

Figure 5. Baby Anna's hummingbirds in their nest in a Black Cottonwood tree (Populus trichocarpa). Photo courtesy of Ian Cruickshank.

Figure 6 (left). Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds

Figure 7 (right). Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) blossoms dazzle in early April. Photo courtesy of Julia Daly.

Figure 8. Red-Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) and Hedge-nettle (Stachys chamissonis)

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