‘It’s definitely a peak year’: Resident hummingbirds suffering in B.C.’s cold weather

Protecting hummingbirds during winter
While most birds native to B.C. can handle winter conditions, cold weather can be a matter of life and death for hummingbirds. Linda Aylesworth has the details, and how we can help.

The harsh winter weather hammering B.C.’s South Coast is freezing out the province’s resident hummingbirds.

The Wildlife Rescue Association says it has responded to more than 75 calls in just a few days from people who have found distressed, freezing or starving hummingbirds.

The group has rescued 10 hummingbirds so far, and expects more help will be needed over the weekend for the birds that stay in southern B.C. year-round instead of migrating south for the winter.

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“It’s definitely a peak year,” the group’s co-executive director Linda Bakker said. “Last year with the snow we saw an influx of hummingbirds, but definitely more this year.”

Bakker says in summer, the birds have plenty of insects to eat and flowers to sip nectar from. But once the snow comes, “they really rely on hummingbird feeders.”

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The centre says if people want to help, they should get additional feeders and alternate them when they freeze.

Increase in sick birds at OWL sanctuary
Increase in sick birds at OWL sanctuary
“A lot of [the birds] have come in because the feeders froze that they were relying on and then they didn’t have any food, and they got hypoglycemic,” wildlife technician Meghan Coghlan said as she attended to one of the rescued hummingbirds.

Feeders should also be cleaned once a week with a 10 per cent bleach solution to prevent fatal mold from building up.

The group says hummingbirds need to eat almost constantly and can consume half their weight in pure sugar every day.

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The centre has received a report of a bird passing out at a feeder from the cold. If that happens, the group advises people should use a towel to pick up the bird, put it in a box with air holes along with the feeder, and bring it inside to a quiet location overnight.

“Without proper care and nutrition, cold temperatures can lead to the starvation and death of many hummingbirds,” the group says in a news release.

Janelle Stephenson, the association’s hospital manager, says the danger signs to watch for in the birds include weakness, confusion, visible injuries, birds that are on the ground or are unable to fly.

—With files from the Canadian Press