BIRD WATCH: Hummingbirds in December

THE TITLE OF a Faith Baldwin novel, “Roses in December,” made a lasting impression on me decades ago. I was very young.

The time period for the book was a more romantic time. Gentlemen did special things to get a young lady’s affection.

This was a time when receiving even a single rose in December was very romantic.

For some odd reason, a similar thought popped into my head a few days ago — “Hummingbirds in December.” That’s really special too, isn’t it?

Not too many years ago, a hummingbird in the yard or gardens during winter was as rare as a rose once was. Even a warm green house or hot house wasn’t going to contain wintering hummingbirds.

That changed several years ago.

Hummingbirds are expected in December and the thought of them hanging around during the colder months isn’t always welcome.

Some birdwatchers take their syrup feeders down in the fall, not wanting to be responsible for the birds staying longer than they should. However, hummingbirds make their own plans.

Even though your syrup feeders might have gone into storage months ago, there is a good chance you have more than one of these hardy little birds in your neighborhood.

The rufous hummingbirds continue to act as we expect them to. Late summer will see them vacating our yards as they begin their southward migration. The Anna’s are a different story.

In 1953, The University of Washington Press published “Birds of Washington State.” Written by Stanley Jewett, Walter Taylor, William Shaw and John Aldrich, it was the primary text book for classes in ornithology. It is almost 800 pages in length and has few illustrations.

It contains information on each species — habitat preference, migration patterns, nesting, diet and almost anything you want to know about the state’s birds.

There was no information on the Anna’s hummingbird in this book. Only the rufous, Allen’s, calliope and black chinned hummingbirds were covered in detail.

During the early seventies, the Anna’s wintered in small numbers on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia.

There were also reports of them being seen on the coast. These were probably migrants from California. At one time, that region was considered the northern limit for year-round residency.

The change in the Anna’s territorial wandering slowly moved a resident population northward.

When sightings of hummingbirds began occurring in the Pacific Northwest, they got a lot of attention.

People would get frantic thinking the birds would perish when freezing temperatures or snow was in the forecast.

On one occasion, a kind-hearted soul actually let the bird move into their house during a severe cold snap.

For a number of years now, it has become apparent to many of us that the Anna’s hummingbirds have come to stay all year. Not everyone is aware of this.

A recent email announced, “I have a hummingbird at the feeder every day, all day. He leaves only a short time and then is back.”

If we should be in for some freezing weather this winter, it will make life easier if we have two hummingbird syrup feeders.

Take one in at night, or if you get up before daylight, take them both in.

The hummers will go into a torpor state for the night. A state of torpor is similar to hibernation. The body slows way down in order to preserve the bird’s body heat. The thawed syrup will get their day off to a good start.

If “I have a hummingbird in my yard” describes what you are seeing, don’t panic.

The increase in Anna’s numbers only shows the birds know what they are doing — but they are still special in December.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected]

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