It seems weird to be talking about hummingbirds in January, but for some strange reason, Anna’s hummingbirds have decided they like to overwinter in Idaho and I have been lucky enough to have a couple at my house this winter. Because I had procrastinated about taking down my feeders, I discovered them in the late fall feeding at an old half empty feeder. I immediately started putting out fresh syrup and they continued to come to the feeder until right around Christmas. I haven’t seen my birds for several weeks, even though we are continuing to swap out feeders as they freeze.
While this sugar syrup is a fine supplemental food, these birds need protein and will also eat insects. They find them on leaves of evergreens, in the cracks and crevices of tree bark, in spider webs and stuck in tree sap. They know where to look.
In really cold weather, these birds go into a state of turpor, or basically, go to sleep. A hummingbird in torpor can drop its body temperature from about 104 degrees to 48 degrees and reduce its respiration from 245 breaths per minute to 6. This torpor can help keep a hummingbird asleep through severe weather.
Before the 1930’s, this hummingbird only bred in Baja, California. But they slowing began expanding their range into Arizona and further into California. This species was first recorded in Idaho in 1976. Only 37 of these birds were observed in Idaho between 1976-2005. They are now seen annually in Northern and Southwest Idaho.
The Intermountain Bird Observatory began studying and banding these hummingbirds in 2015-2016 and confirmed 55 of these hummingbirds in the state. They continue this year.
The Intermountain Bird Observatory came to my house to band one of my hummingbirds. The first time Heidi Ware came over, the bird was hovering and buzzing around until the trap went up and then we didn’t see him again. The following week she returned and we were successful. He was trapped, banded with a teeny tiny band, weighed and measured. A tale feather was removed for isotope testing. This test will be able to determine where this bird originated. A dot of typewriter (remember them?) ‘whiteout’ was put on his head so that I could easily identify the banded bird when he revisited the feeder.
If you see hummingbirds this winter, please contact the Intermountain Bird Observatory at or 208-426-2223. If you’re interested in having them banded, they will come and try to do so. They are studying this crazy phenomenon by counting and tagging individual birds. Help them out if you can.
Before we know it, planting season will be upon us. On Saturday mornings, we talk gardening on the D&B Garden Show. Even in the dead of winter gardeners are making green plans.
Join the conversation on Saturday mornings from 10-11 on KIDO, 580am and call with any garden questions or tips you’d like to share, 888-580-5436. I look forward to visiting with you.
Stay warm and safe during this crazy weather!