The Osprey are back and so are the hummingbirds. Many people enjoy putting out feeders in the summer to attract these delightful little birds to their yards. I am sometimes asked if this is in any way harmful to the birds. There is no evidence to suggest that it is; in fact, there is some evidence to suggest that it is actually beneficial to the birds, particularly in cooler weather. If you are feeding hummingbirds this year, make sure you have sterilised the feeders thoroughly before putting them out. There has been considerable debate amongst the ‘experts’, as to how much sugar to add to the water. I have heard everything from 2 to 1, up to 5 to 1. I have always recommended 4 to 1; this, I’ve been told, most closely equals the sweetness of the nectar obtained from local flowers. Experiments done a few years ago in Victoria, showed that given the choice, the hummers themselves will chose as sweet as they can get! (But perhaps that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for them!) There is one thing that the experts do agree on, however; do not put food colouring in the water.
There are six species of Hummingbirds in Canada, four of which have been reported in our region. (In South America there are almost 300 species!) Our most common hummer is the Rufous Hummingbird. The male Rufous Hummingbird is reddish-brown on the back and sides, white on the breast and belly and green on the wings and crown. But its most prominent feature is certainly the brilliant fiery-red throat. Anyone who has spent time watching these little gems flitting about in the flowers or at your feeder will have noticed that at times the brilliance of the throat temporarily disappears and merely looks black. In fact, those feathers are black! The colour we see is not the result of pigment, but is caused by light refraction in the feathers.
The only other hummingbird regularly seen in our region is the Calliope Hummingbird. This diminutive creature is the smallest bird in North America. The males have a green back and the throat is adorned with brilliant purple streaks. I do not see this bird very often in Nakusp, usually just one or two each year. They do seem to be a bit more regular in New Denver. Separating the males of these two species is quite easy, identification problems lie with the females! Both are virtually the same in general appearance: green above and white below. Some females, and the very similar immature males, sometimes show small spots or streaks in the throat, but never do they approach the brilliance of the purple streaks on the male Calliope.
Hummers are unique in the avian world, they can fly forwards, backwards and sideways! Their wings beat at the unbelievable rate of sixty times each second, producing the characteristic humming sound heard in flight. It is not surprising that hummingbirds have very high metabolic rates and require huge amounts of food energy. Most of this energy is acquired from nectar in flowers. Their long beaks and equally long tongues allow them to reach deep inside the flowers to extract the sweet nectar. Their energy comes from nectar, but the protein required to maintain body health comes from insects. Young in the nest are fed almost entirely on insects.