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Winter hummingbirds

Winter hummingbirds

Our birds

Karen Zook

In the Pacific Northwest, hummingbirds usually are associated with spring and summer, but there are hummingbirds that spend the winter here in Sequim and throughout the Pacific Northwest. In fact, their numbers have been increasing. According to the Sequim Christmas Bird Count data kept by the Dungeness Audubon River Center, the first Anna's hummingbird seen on the count was in 1994 (there was one). By 2006, the number counted was 10; in 2008 there were 22 and in 2009, 33 were counted. Victoria, British Columbia, counted 556 Anna's in the 2009 bird count.

We have two species of hummingbird here: the Anna's hummingbird and the rufous hummingbird. The Anna's hummingbird is the species that spends winters here. Some scientists believe that this species of hummingbird does not migrate and has been increasing its range northward for several decades. Why? Nobody really knows.

Some scientists speculate that hummingbirds are staying in part because we humans are providing a reliable source of nectar year-round. More and more of us are leaving our nectar feeders up through the winter and many of us are landscaping our yards with plants that hummingbirds like.

How do hummingbirds survive the winters here when it gets cold?

When it is very cold, hummingbirds can enter a state of torpor, which means that they can reduce their metabolism so that they require much less fuel to stay alive. Something that you may not know about hummingbirds is that they do not live on nectar alone. They use nectar to sustain their energy so that they can hunt for their main protein sources, which are insects (fruit flies, gnats, aphids, mosquitoes and caterpillars) and spiders.

If you would like to attract hummingbirds to your yard, there are two things you can do. One - put up a hummingbird feeder, and two - add some plants to your landscape that hummingbirds like.

If you are putting up a feeder, there are a few things to remember. First, keep the feeder clean. This is essential.

Change the syrup every four-five days (more often when it is warm outside) and clean the feeder every time you change the syrup. This means washing the feeder with a mild detergent and hot water and rinsing well. Some feeders may be put into the dishwasher, but if you do that you should rinse the feeder well in warm water after you remove it from the dishwasher, as hummingbirds do not like the taste of detergent and may not use your feeder if it tastes soapy.

Second, place the feeder out of the reach of cats or at least 4 feet off the ground. Third, if it is cold and the feeder freezes, try to keep fresh syrup available. I have two feeders and when one freezes, I bring it inside the house to thaw and put the other one up. After it gets dark, I bring the feeders inside and put them in the fridge until daylight.

If you aren't able keep the feeder thawed, the birds probably will be OK but they might fly up to your window and stare at you until you do something about their feeder. This actually happened at our house.

The recipe for syrup/nectar is simple: Four parts water to one part sugar. Use only cane or beet white table sugar - no turbinado or brown sugar - NEVER use honey or artificial sweetener and NEVER add red food coloring to the syrup. Bring to a boil, cool and store for a week to 10 days in the fridge.

Hummers' favorites

Fall is a great time to add plants to your yard and if you want to attract hummingbirds, there are a number of plants to consider. Native plant favorites include flowering red currant, Oregon grape, Indian plum, twinberry, salmonberry and honeysuckle. For more natives, the Washington Native Plant Society has a list. Visit its website at

There are plenty of nice non-native plants, too. Some nurseries will have lists of plants to attract hummingbirds and there are also garden books and magazines you can consult.

In our yard, favorites are fuchsias (both hardy and non-hardy), torch lily (also called red hot poker), penstemon, salvia (especially the blue ones), comfrey, cape fuchsia (phygelius), columbine, agastache, witch hazel and crocosmia.

Speaking of hummingbirds, the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the Dungeness Audubon River Center, 2151 W. Hendrickson Road, Sequim. Dr. Peter Hodum will present "Of Hummingbirds and Humans: Conserving the Threatened Birds of San Fernandez Islands, Chile."

Now that you know that they are here, keep an eye out for hummingbirds this winter!

Karen Zook is a member of the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society. She is an avid birder and gardener and is also a member of the Sequim Prairie Garden Club.

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