by George Bradd, Tofino
As the first pink Salmonberry flowers bloom above a carpet of bright
green false lily-of-the-valley, the first Hummingbirds arrive back
in Tofino. These feathered jewels have survived the incredible journey
from Central America to Vancouver Island. This is so physically exhausting
that many migrating hummingbirds have to find food and shelter upon
landing, or they will die that same night. Their lifestyle is a testament
to efficiency, co-operation and adaptation. As human beings we can
only dream of living in such intimate, symbiotic, sustainable relationship
with our world.
Hummingbirds are the only vertebrate in the world that can rotate
the entire shoulder socket backward without dislocation of the
shoulder. This is an amazing adaptation, which gives them the ability
to feed while hovering stationary in flight and to fly backwards!
They are important pollinators for many species of plants with
bill shapes and lengths specially evolved for feeding on particular
The Sword-billed Hummingbird of the tropics, has a bill that may
reach to 100 mm; and rests with the bill tilted upwards, as if
to balance the weight. Feeding mainly on nectar, they also eat
small insects. Species that live at higher elevations are capable
of lowering their body temperature and entering a torpor-like state
at night to conserve energy.
They are sometimes very aggressive while feeding. Their feeding strategies
vary from picking insects from flowers to daring dives through waterfalls
and spray over raging mountain torrents. Although very territorial
and feisty while feeding these feathered dynamos don’t injure
or hurt their competitors. Elaborate flight displays determine the
Found only in the neotropics of the world, there are over 300 species.
They are found from the steamy Amazon basin to the cloud forest and
high peaks of the Andes. British Columbia has four species, with
two on Vancouver Island. In Tofino our common species is the Rufous
Hummingbird. This male has an iridescent red throat patch; red
belly and most have a rufous coloured back and nape. A small percentage
of males have a green back. The female has a small patch of orange-red
on throat, light belly, and green back.
A second species of hummingbird that Tofino residents should keep
their eyes and ears open for is the larger Anna’s Hummingbird,
whose range was previously limited to southern California. With global
warming pushing many bird species northwards, they now breed in Victoria
and Nanaimo. Any hummingbirds seen in Tofino during winter are most
likely Anna’s. The male Anna’s Hummingbird has a red crown
and gorget and green back. Females have a small red patch on throat
and white over the eye with a green back and pale breast.
Feeding hummingbirds means being generous and saves birds lives. Earlier
this spring in Tofino during our rainy, cold weather, artificial feeding
was a welcome supplement to the first scarce flowers and insects.
In many parks and reserves in South America, park staff put out hummingbird
feeders to help endangered hummingbird species.
One of the rarest birds in the world, the Black-breasted Puffleg
is known to nest in only two sites on the high slopes of Volcan Pichincha
in Ecuador. Recently an oil pipeline from the Amazon basin to the
Pacific was constructed right through one of the breeding areas.
Impoverished park rangers barely able to eat, spend their meagre
wages on sugar, and patrol daily on their aged bicycles to fill up
feeders to help the Puffleg. I can count myself among the lucky few
to have seen this rare hummingbird. It was feeding at a park feeder
on a foggy morning so cold that the numb fingers of all other birders
forced a retreat to their vehicles at the trailhead.
Being Canadian, I found numb fingers to be normal. Without feeding
supplements of sugar water the poor Puffleg of Pichincha might slip
into extinction much faster.
We can help our local Rufous Hummingbirds by feeding with sugar water,
and cleaning any mold or fungus from the feeder bottle. Situate hummingbird
feeders outside windows or doors with small separate windows, not big
picture windows. If one hits the window and falls stunned, pick it
up in your (clean) hands and keep it warm and dark. If it perks up,
put it in a bush where cats can’t get it or just let it fly from
your hands. If one gets inside your house, just gently cup your hands
and catch it. Then carry it outside and release it. Close windows near
feeders during peak feeding hours like dusk. All of these things combined
will help our hummingbird friends on the Tofino end of a big migration
for a little bird.
George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising in
birdwatching tours. For more info, visit www.justbirding.com
Tofino Birdwatching Articles
Tofino birding guide George Bradd writes about hummingbirds in Tofino. Published in Tofino Time Magazine in May 2005.