Photo by John Taylor
South Okanagan Nature Photo by John Taylor johns rufous hummerr
The wings of this male Rufous hummingbird are merely a blur, beating 20-75 times per second, as it hovers to feed.

Hummingbirds amazing to watch

There are over 300 species of hummingbirds in the world; all confined to the new world - South, Central and North America. Of these, 17 species are regularly seen in North America but those of us in the Okanagan can generally expect to see only four on a regular basis. These include Calliope (the smallest of our hummers), Black-chinned, Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds. Both the Black-chinned and the Calliope are found only in interior BC whereas the Anna’s and Rufous are also common at the coast.

All North American hummingbirds are migratory – ours spend only the spring and summer here in the Valley and then head south for the fall and winter. As with many migratory birds, there are some individuals that don’t migrate. Many Anna’s over-winter on the BC coast and breed there in early spring. The Anna’s in the Ok Valley are thought to be wandering coastal birds although there is some evidence that they are now breeding here. The Rufous appears to hold the migration distance record as some of them go as far north as the Yukon and southern Alaska for summer and as far south as south-central Mexico for winter, a distance of almost 13,000 km (8,000 miles).

Many Canadians set out bird feeders to attract birds but feeding seed mixtures to song birds can have a bit of a down side. It can be very messy with seeds and seed hulls falling everywhere and in cities and towns (such as Penticton) this debris can attract mice and rats. Putting out seed does not generally work well for those who live in condos or apartments, especially if they are above the ground floor.

However, even those living in small apartments can attract hummingbirds to their balcony or windows with specialized nectar feeders. Hummingbirds are the most amazing little creatures to watch and generally will come to feeders in even busy locations. Hummers are also attracted to red flowers, so try including a hanging basket by your feeder or tie some red ribbons on the feeder to attract their interest.

Hummingbirds are extremely active birds and therefore great fun to watch at the feeders. From their incredibly rapid wing-beat (20-75 times per second) to their crazy flight antics – hovering, backwards, forwards, up, down and even sideways –hummingbirds put on a great feeder show. Most hummers (especially males) become very possessive of their territory, including any feeder you may put out, so when another comes along, sparks can fly as the “owner” tries to dissuade the newcomer from feeding at his spot.

You can pick up a hummingbird feeder at almost any department or pet store and mix your own food. It is not necessary to purchase colored nectar nor should you add food coloring to your own mix. Simply mix sugar and boiling water in the ratio of one cup of sugar to four cups of water, stir and let cool. Hang the feeder in a convenient spot – at the edge of your balcony for instance – and enjoy the show. It is best not to let the “nectar” sit in the feeder more than about 4 or 5 days as it can go moldy, causing harm and even death to the birds. I keep mine fresh by only using a small amount in the feeder and then rinsing it out and adding new mix every 5 days. Once mixed, you can keep the unused portion in the fridge.
Nature Wise