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Hummingbirds may need extra help surviving recent frigid temperatures

Hummingbirds increasingly rely on bird feeders as insects and plants become more scarce in the winter.  (Karin Larsen/CBC - image credit)
Hummingbirds increasingly rely on bird feeders as insects and plants become more scarce in the winter. (Karin Larsen/CBC - image credit)

Wildlife experts say hummingbirds in B.C. may need some assistance getting food, staying warm, and tending to their nests amid recent snowfalls and cold temperatures.

Anna's hummingbirds, which remain in B.C. throughout the year, survive on a diet of insects and plants. When these resources become scare in the winter, many of them rely on hummingbird feeders.

But feeders can freeze over when temperatures drop below zero.

"When we get these sudden intensely cold temperatures and snowfalls, they definitely have a much harder time staying warm and finding the food that they need," said Jackie McQuillan from the Wildlife Association of B.C.

The possibility of nests being covered in snow is also a concern because Anna's hummingbirds are currently in their breeding season.

The wildlife association has received several calls from people around the Lower Mainland who have seen hummingbirds struggle to access snow-covered nests.

"It's really important if you know that there's a nest there just to double check that it's unobstructed so the hummingbird mama can still get to the eggs to keep them warm," said McQuillan.

She says people who come across buried nests can help by carefully clearing the snow away, ensuring not to disturb the nest. Hummingbird nests are usually found on trees or shrubs at, or below, eye level.

Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C.
Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C.

The rescue association has also received reports of hypothermic hummingbirds.

"Sometimes people will literally just find them looking like they're asleep in a snowbank," said McQuillan.

She says people across the province who come across hummingbirds in distress can call the association's helpline at 604-526-7275.

People in the Lower Mainland can bring hypothermic birds to the association's facility located on the north side of Burnaby Lake.

Keeping feeders warm

Alison Moran from the Rocky Point Bird Observatory in Victoria says people should take extra care to keep their feeders clean and warm throughout the winter.

"If you've made the decision to feed an animal during its breeding season, it's made a decision to breed there because of the resources you've provided," said Moran.

"Feeding them happily and then going to Mexico for a nice holiday, if there's no one around you who is also feeding them, that's not so fair."

Moran recommends people keep a second feeder that they can switch out if their feeder becomes frozen. She also suggests people move their feeder undercover so it doesn't get covered in snow.

McQuillan says people can alternatively use a feeder heater — an insulated heated covering that goes over the feeder — to keep the solution inside from freezing.

Sometimes hummingbirds have gotten their tongues frozen to bird feeders that have exposed metal parts. To avoid injury, McQuillan recommends people cover any exposed metal on their feeders.