Do you love hummingbirds? Columbia Valley species and how to attract them

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Posted in:  Golden Branch

Did you know that we have three different species of hummingbirds in the Columbia Valley, including the smallest bird in Canada and the U.S., the Calliope Hummingbird? The other two species are the Rufous and the Black-chinned Hummingbird. For all three species, males have a brilliantly colored patch on their throats, which can be seen in the right light, while female and immature hummingbirds lack this patch and are duller in color.

The Calliope Hummingbird can be identified by its green back and head and the magenta on the male’s throat. It weighs as much as a ping pong ball and is the smallest long-distance migrant worldwide, travelling about 8000 km each year!

The Rufous Hummingbird has an orangey-colored back, with the male having an iridescent red throat and the female and immature hummingbird rustier in color. This is the most common and territorial of our hummingbirds and can often be seen aggressively defending its territory.

The Black-chinned Hummingbird has a greenish back and head. The male does look like it has a black chin, but in the right light this can turn into a strip of brilliant iridescent purple. This is one of the most adaptable of hummingbirds, found both in urban areas as well as in pristine natural habitats.

Adding nectar plants to your garden is a wonderful way to attract these diminutive birds. However, hummingbirds not only feed on nectar!  It is thought that insects make up a large portion of their diet and they will catch them while zipping through the air.

Many people enjoy feeding hummingbirds with specially designed feeders. Most hummingbird feeders have red on them because the birds seem to be more attracted to red than to other colors, but you do not need red dye in the liquid. In fact, the red found in commercial nectar may be toxic to hummingbirds and is not necessary to attract them. If you don’t have a red feeder, you could put a red ribbon on it to make it more easily seen by the hummingbirds. 

The most important thing about selecting a feeder is to choose one that is easy to clean and refill, as it is very important to keep feeders clean.  Sugar water is a very rich growth medium.  Yeasts like to eat it, causing fermentation.  Mold and bacteria can also grow in sugar water, all of which can be harmful to the birds.  That is why it is important to keep the feeder clean and the nectar fresh.  You must change the nectar frequently to avoid these contaminants. In cooler temperatures we recommend changing it every seven days. In warmer temperatures the recommended guidelines are as follows:

Daily high temps                                       Change nectar after

16-21 C                                                      4-5 days

22-26 C                                                      3 days

27-29 C                                                      2 days

30+ C                                                         daily

Making homemade nectar is easy and inexpensive.  Recipe is as follows: one part white sugar (not brown) to four parts boiling water.  You can store the cooled liquid in the fridge for up to two weeks.

These bird facts are brought to you by Wildsight Golden’s Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey.