Colds take a toll on BC’s Anna’s hummingbirds

The extreme cold image takes a toll on British Columbia’s smallest bird.

Fifteen frozen or injured Anna’s hummingbirds were brought to non-profit Wildlife Rescue Association of BC facility in Burnaby, BC, Tuesday alone, a record number for a single day.

Staff also said the phone has rang from the phone with people seeking advice on what to do with hummingbirds they have found that appear to be injured.

“Since the temperature dropped, we’ve seen all kinds of injuries from those frozen in snowbanks, sometimes actually getting their tongues frozen to bird food or even their feet or wings frozen to different surfaces,” says Jackie McQuillan, head of the support center . at the Wildlife Rescue Association of BC

“They are hypoglycemic, so their blood sugar levels have dropped really low. They are incredibly weak,” she said. “Many of them have frostbite and they need a lot of help.”

People have posted pictures on social media of the creative ways they keep their hummingbird feeders from freezing. (DyslexicSquirrel / PureBloodPotterFan / CJWood)

McQuillan said the small birds can be rehabilitated as long as their injuries are not too severe.

And in some cases, hummingbirds that seem to be dying are actually just fine – after entering a natural state of torpor that helps them survive freezing temperatures, provided a cat does not come to them .

“It’s a bit like a semi-hibernation where they slow down their metabolism to save energy,” McQuillan said. “So people will often find them during a cold snap in this sleepy state.”

Hummingbird expert Alison Moran said anyone who finds a lifeless hummingbird should never assume it is dead.

“What we do not want people to do is bury it,” said Moran, director of Rocky Point Bird Observatory’s Hummingbird Project.

“Put it in a small box, keep an eye on it, check every half hour, but keep it outside, so if it flies away, try not to catch it in the house.”

Anna’s is one of five hummingbird species in BC, but the only one that does not migrate in winter.

The breeding season for Anna’s hummingbird begins in January, which is another reason why people with sugarwater hummingbirds need to be very attentive during the coldest months so that good intentions do not end up harming the birds.

“You have to be really careful about keeping these feeders from freezing,” McQuillan said.

“Some people are not aware that ice crystals start to form at the small portals before they do so in the column. So that’s where a lot of the damage comes from because ice crystals start to form where they stick their tongues out. in to drink. the sugar water and they are very vulnerable to frostbite. “

Freezing feeders can also damage hummingbirds by changing the concentration of sugar to water.

“Ice excludes sugar, which means the remaining mixture is becoming more and more concentrated,” Moran said. “And the reason this is a bit of a problem is that when it’s really cold, they have to find water to dilute it. And if all the water is frozen, there is no free water around.”

Since the cold hit almost a week ago, creative suggestions on how to stop hummingbirds from freezing have circulated widely on social media – with everything from wool socks with hand warmers crammed inside to Christmas candle wraps and lamp equipment.

McQuillan says it’s best to place your feeder in a sheltered place, away from the weather and close to your home.

Another strategy is to have two feeders, to keep one in the house, full and ready to be swapped in when the other outside freezes.

When it comes to filling your feeder, Moran advises that it is best to stick to the recommended one part refined white sugar to four parts water mixture. She even suggests an easy trick to remember the proportions.

“The recipe is on your hand,” she said. “Your thumb is the sugar and your fingers are the water.”

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