About the hummers

Anna’s hummingbirds are fairly new to Canada. This is a natural range expansion. They are not “invasive” as a result of people transporting them or releasing them. They are coming up here on their own.

Until recently, Anna’s hummingbirds lived only on the southwestern USA (Arizona and California) and northwestern Mexico. For some reason, that we don’t fully understand yet, around a century ago they started expanding their range: northward up the coast to Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and even Alaska, as well as southward farther into Mexico.

Anna’s hummingbirds (unlike the rufous hummingbirds who were already living here in the Pacific Northwest) are non-migratory. While the rufous head southward by late summer, Anna’s stay roughly in place year-round. Our mild winters along the coast mean that these sub-tropical birds are not only surviving – they are thriving here!

Map used with permission: Cephas [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)].

So why are Anna’s hummingbirds moving up to Canada? We don’t exactly know. It’s convenient to think that climate change is the reason, and that may play a part. But trust me – Canada has not warmed up that much!

Human activity is likely a cause – but more probably as an indirect consequence of settlement and colonization. In this mild climate, gardeners like me introduce species that bloom through the winter, such as hellebore and winter jasmine: so there is now a year-round food source for these non-migratory hummers.

And then of course, once people notice hummingbirds in their yards, they set out feeders, encouraging them to stay and to breed.

This is one of the first pictures I took as the Anna’s hummingbirds started to arrive at my house. This was taken in mid-winter, in January of 2015. The bird was exploring for food: visiting the hellebores and hyacinths I had growing in pots on my front balcony.

Anna’s hummingbirds are like airborne jewels – as one of my friends says, flying Christmas ornaments, gleaming metallic green and red. The females (two photos above) are mainly iridescent green, with whitish underparts, and small dark throat patch that flashes bright red when the light hits it. The males (two videos and photo below) are similar, but unmistakable with their brilliant red throat and head.

Not many species can claim as many superlatives as Anna’s hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can hover for more than a few seconds, or that fly backwards or straight up. Anna’s are the northernmost hummingbird species. Their heart rate fluctuates wildly. When flying, it can be as high as 1200 beats per minute (that’s 20 beats per second!). But it can drop to just 30 beats per minute (that’s lower than any healthy human) when they chill their bodies down and go into a state called torpor (like reptiles do) to survive our long winter nights (which itself is another amazing fact).

Anna’s hummingbirds are also the fastest known animal species on Earth – at least if you measure their speed proportionate to their size: on courtship dives, the males can reach velocities of up to 385 body-lengths per second!

And finally – Anna’s hummingbirds are one of the very few hummingbirds that sing. They might not be the most musically inclined: their song is often compared to a squeaky gate. But it is a song, not just chirping. Here is this year’s front yard bird, Flathead, singing in the rain:

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