tofino hummingbird


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 flowers.

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 winner.

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

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Tofino birding guide George Bradd writes about hummingbirds in Tofino. Published in Tofino Time Magazine in May 2005.

tofino time may 2005

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