Posted by Bob Lefebvre
Yesterday Marion Smolinski decided to put up her Hummingbird feeders in her yard in SW Calgary. This morning, a Rufous Hummingbird was at the feeder. It is really early but Marion thought she would put out her feeders early due to the mild spring we’ve had.
Rufous Hummingbird from a previous year. Photo by Dan Arndt
In Calgary the hummingbirds (Rufous, Caliope, and Ruby-throated) usually arrive back on about May 10. The way to remember when to put your feeders up is to do it on Mother’s Day. Maybe if you have a feeder you should put it up now.
Of course we can still have hard frosts for quite a while yet so you may have to bring your feeder inside overnight if frost is forecast.
Due to their fast metabolism (the fastest of any animal that maintains a constant temperature), Hummingbirds are always just a few hours from death if they don’t have a food source. To conserve energy they enter a state of torpor when food is scarce and at night when not actively feeding, slowing their metabolism to 1/15 of its normal rate and dropping their body temperature to 18 degrees C from 40 degrees.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed much farther north than the other species and are able to tolerate overnight freezing temperatures. If the birds are here, they have likely followed the blooming of flowering plants and the availability of insects, and unless we get a prolonged cold spell with daytime temperatures below freezing, they will be able to survive. Putting a feeder out is mostly for the enjoyment of humans and is not necessary for the bird’s survival.
If you do have a feeder out, it is important to remove any perches so that the birds have to feed while hovering. I know it is nice to see them perched but it poses a danger this early in the year. When a bird comes out of its nighttime torpor and goes to a feeder, if it rests on a perch its metabolism may drop again, and since it can be much colder at an exposed feeder than at their nighttime roost, they can die of hypothermia.
Anna’s Hummingbird at a feeder. Photo by Dan Arndt.
The bird in the above photo is perched on a ring on the feeder. I have one of these and have cut off the perching ring. Hummingbirds don’t need perches to feed.
The solution you put in your feeder should be made by boiling water and mixing one part white sugar (never brown sugar or honey) to four parts water, and then cooling it. It is not necessary to colour the liquid and that may actually be harmful. You don’t have to buy commercially available Hummingbird food, which is usually coloured red and can have nutrients added. Hummingbirds get all their nutrients from eating insects.