Buddy, Dave, no fair-weather friend

British Columbia is the northern edge of the Anna's hummingbird wintering range.

Roufous hummingbird shown, Anna’s hummingbirds like Camellia sasanqua ‘Kanjiro,’ below. At bottom is Viburnum Dawn, also a nectar source.

Roufous hummingbird shown, Anna’s hummingbirds like Camellia sasanqua ‘Kanjiro,’ below. At bottom is Viburnum Dawn, also a nectar source.

My buddy Dave is the opposite of what you would call a fair-weather friend, as I never see him in spring, summer or fall and even on those rare clear winter days, he is nowhere to be found.

Instead, he begins to show up as the hard killing frosts take most of the late autumn flowers in our gardens, and then he’s just there for the salvias and fuchsias still blooming in the shelter of the perennial house.

Dave is not shy, because the second I open those big rolling doors to the greenhouses, he buzzes in and makes himself right at home. He’ll even fly right into the store and gorge himself on the blooming Christmas cactus, after which he’ll perch on the artificial tree to gaze upon the crystal hummingbirds.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Dave is the real thing, an overwintering Anna’s hummingbird – with an attitude.

I think he nests in a Serbian spruce on the east side of the nursery, as I’ll often see him dive-bomb straight down into that tree, disappearing into the foliage. Just the other day I found him trapped in one of our coldframes where we keep the fuchsia that he had been feeding on all night – he had the look of a kid in a candy store and if I’m not mistaken he had gained a few ounces.

As soon as I opened the door, he gave me a quick buzz and zipped right out into the wide open world.

Dave has been hanging around quite a bit lately, especially after I hung the feeder in the perennial house, which he found in all of five seconds. Once he has had his morning sip, he usually perches on the nearby vines and watches me in the adjacent work station. With the arrival of another Anna’s hummingbird, he has taken to perching on the Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ shrubs, a winter-flowering species with fragrant pale pink flower clusters borne from November to April.

This is an important nectar source for these hummingbirds and Dave is not about to share it with anyone else. Still, I rarely see them fighting (hummingbirds are notoriously territorial) and when they both use the feeder at the same time, Dave seems OK with it as long as the other is opposite to him. I have even seen them browsing the winter camellia flowers together, flitting from flower to flower, but never sharing the same one. Dave, who has been at the nursery for the past three years, seems to trust me – allowing me to walk right by him without alighting, while the newcomer is gone in a heartbeat.

On particularly cold mornings, I like to watch Dave as he does warm-up calisthenics which consist of flying back and forth through the greenhouse supports, stopping when he reaches the sidewall and making a little chirping call, after which he flies back the other way. He’ll do this 10 to 12 times before he takes his morning nectar cocktail and either perches inside (on rainy days) or heads back out.

Here in coastal B.C., we are at the northern edge of their wintering range, which has expanded with the introduction of exotic plants into residential gardens.

Some winter-flowering shrubs that will feed local Anna’s hummingbirds include the aforementioned winter camellias (Camellia sasanqua), Strawberry Bush ( Arbutus unedo) and Mahonia x media ‘Charity’. Indigenous species with late-winter to early-spring blooms for nectar include salmonberry, red-flowering currant and Indian plum (Oemleria) – but make sure those feeders stay full for Dave.

 

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author. hebe_acer@hotmail.com

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