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Winter home of the Snow Geese and one of Canada's top birdwatching sites.
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Rufous Hummingbird Male

For being the Sanctuary’s smallest birds, hummingbirds are also the feistiest and most charismatic. The Anna’s Hummingbird (Archilochus anna) and Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) occur here, but there are 17 species across North America. Hummingbirds mainly feed on sugary liquid found inside flowers called nectar. When feeding from flowers,they transfer pollen stuck to their feathers to surrounding flowers, making them important pollinators. In fact, some flowers have evolved alongside hummingbirds and depend solely on them for pollination. Because these birds are so connected to the flowers they feed from, migration and blooming times are closely linked. In the Pacific Northwest, in early March, after the cold and damp winter, the first spots of colour begin to appear as Red-flowering Currant and Salmonberry open their delicate pink petals just in time for the first bright rusty-coloured male Rufous Hummingbirds to arrive from their southern wintering areas in the south of Mexico.

These tiny birds have many adaptations to help them access the nectar deep within flowers. Their long, thin bills can fit inside tube-shaped flowers easily, and they have a forked tongue that acts like a pump to draw out nectar. Hummingbirds have a very high metabolism in order to support their acrobatic lifestyle. They need to eat one and a half times their body weight in nectar each day and have a heartrate of about 1200 beats per minute (10 times as fast as yours!). While feeding from flowers, these little birds do something that no other bird can do- they can hover in one spot almost indefinitely. They do so by flapping their wings in a figure 8 pattern at a rate of 40 to 60 wingbeats per second. This also allows them to fly in any direction- forwards, backwards, and side to side. One of the most remarkable aerial feats is the dive display of male hummingbirds. When the male finds a female he wants to impress, he flies to a height of 20to 40 m, then plummets down towards the ground at up to 95 km/h before swerving back up at the last second. You can actually identify the species depending on the sound he makes at the end of his dive. Anna’s Hummingbirds make a sharp squeak, while the Rufous make a chu chu chu chu noise.

Both Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds nest here in the Sanctuary. The females build petite cup nests made of spiderwebs, moss, down, and soft fluff from cattails or willow catkins, with the outside covered in lichen for camouflage. The spiderwebs give the nest a stretchy quality, allowing the nest to stretch and expand as the chicks inside grow larger. 1 or 2 eggs are laid, with an incubation period of 12 to 14 days.

Rufous female on nest

Many male Rufous Hummingbirds continue on their migration after mating season. Around late July, after raising and fledging their chicks, the female Rufous Hummingbirds begin the long journey south to Mexico following the males, where they spend the spend the winter in warmer climates.

Dr. Christine Bishop has been banding the Sanctuary's hummingbirds since 2015, and there are at least 800 hummingbirds wearing small aluminum leg bands as a result of this project. When you are watching just a few at our bird-feeders, just know that there are a lot more out there than you think. One day, over 30 were banded just at one feeder near the Gift Shop.

A few key research references for more information:

Partners In Flight Summary

Rufous Hummingbird- State of the Science and Conservation

Did You Know

Unlike the Rufous Hummingbird, which spends the summer here, then winters in southern Mexico, the Anna's Hummingbird is a relatively recent Sanctuary resident but now is present year-round. This species has traditionally been distributed further south, but has proven quite adaptable and has expanded its range to include many parts of British Columbia.

Here in the Sanctuary, the first Anna’s Hummingbird was seen in 2012. Over the winter, with reduced flower blooms available, this species will eat gnats and other invertebrates, sugary tree sap, as well as sugar water from feeders set out in gardens.


Despite their vibrant personalities, hummingbirds face many threats, from an individual level (outdoor cats, windows, fungus from uncleaned feeders) to their populations as a whole (habitat loss and exposure to pesticides). Pesticides used on plants can be taken up by the flowers and be present in the nectar. Just like with bees, this is of concern when this is consumed by hummingbirds. This can cause health problems for them and current research is assessing this by testing urine and faeces from any birds trapped and banded. .

You can help these amazing birds by keeping a pesticide-free garden and planting native flowers to attract hummingbirds (tube-shaped and red or pink). Keep an eye on your cat if it is outside, too. Hanging a feeder in your yard is a great way to supplement a hummingbirds’ diet, especially in the winter when food is more scarce. Use 1 cup of white sugar to 4 cups of distilled water. Do not use storebought “nectar” as it often contains harmful dyes. It’s also very important to empty and clean the feeder with hot soapy water at least one per week (twice per week during hot weather), as fungus can grow inside the feeders which can be deadly to hummingbirds. Be sure to disassemble all connected parts and scrub away any black fungus visible.

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