British Columbia·Photos

Hummingbirds helped through cold snap by ardent fans

The jewel-like Anna's hummingbird is getting help surviving B.C.'s unusual cold snap, with bird lovers knitting cozies, warming feeders, and even feeding them by hand.

Anna's hummingbirds are year-round residents of the B.C. South Coast but need some help this winter

An Anna's hummingbird being fed sugar water by hand-feeder in Chilliwack, B.C. on a cold winter day last month. (Gord Gadsen)

A jewel-like little bird is getting help surviving B.C.'s unusual cold snap, with bird lovers knitting cozies, lighting candles, setting up heaters and even feeding them by hand.

The Anna's hummingbird, which stays year-round on the South Coast, has been growing rapidly in numbers in recent years, according to Bird Studies Canada — likely helped by feeders, flower gardens and mild winters.

But this year, it's been so cold the small insects the hummingbird eats are gone and feeders are freezing up.

"I've been getting so many calls," said Cathy Steele, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in South Surrey. "People are very worried because the hummingbird feeders are freezing."

Bird lovers have tried various tactics to keep the Anna's hummingbirds well fed, including making a cozy to prevent sugar-water from freezing. (Laura Drisdelle)

But the hummingbird's dedicated fans are undaunted and going to some effort to keep the birds well-fed on sugar water.

Steele's customers have rigged foam insulation around birdfeeders, knit cozies, and one even covered their feeder with an old red mitten from the 2010 Olympics.

Others, including Steele herself, have put a lamp that generates a little heat near their feeder, to keep the sugar-water from freezing.

Some are also using incandescent bulbs to provide just enough heat to keep the sugar-water thawed. (Cynthia Fisher/Facebook)

Gord Gadsden, who runs a Fraser Valley birding forum, says he's also been inundated with concerned queries.

"There's a hummingbird in my yard and it's –7 C and there's snow on the ground. What's going on?," he says he's being asked.

Gadsden reassures people the non-migratory hummingbirds are regular winter residents. (This year, they were also noted as highlights at winter bird counts in the Interior, including Lake Country, Penticton and Kelowna.)

And, he encourages people to keep their feeders filled (and unfrozen).

"Just be ready. Maybe you have to babysit your hummers a little bit when the weather changes like this."

The Anna's hummingbirds at Gord Gadsden's yard in Chilliwack, B.C., have been so eager for food they're willing to eat from a child's hand. (Gord Gadsden)

At his home in Chilliwack, where lately 10 Anna's hummingbirds are visiting eight feeders, he's been bringing the feeders in at night, and putting them back out before sunrise.

"It's like raising a puppy or a baby," says Gadsden.

"You've got to be up first at the crack of dawn because those little guys, they're waking up and they're looking for food."

In North Vancouver, Teri Banks is warming her hummingbird feeder with a tea light and fondue pot. (Teri Banks/Facebook)

The normal ratio of water to sugar for feeding hummingbirds is 4 to 1, and some recommend a 3 to 1 ratio during cold weather to delay freezing, but Gadsden says not to add more sugar than that, as it can leave the birds dehydrated.

The Anna's hummingbirds have been so eager for food, Gadsden's children have even been able to hold feeders in their hands.

A lot of work? Perhaps, but for bird-lovers, its worth it.

"I think they're one of the most loved birds around, because they're very special. They're very fierce little birds," said Steele.

"They're just very fun to watch."

An Anna's hummingbird in Chilliwack, B.C. eating from a hand-feeder. (Gord Gadsen)


Lisa Johnson

Senior writer and editor

Lisa Johnson is a senior writer and editor at CBC News. She helped create CBC Radio's What On Earth which won the 2021CJF Award for Climate Solutions Reporting. She has reported for CBC on TV, radio and online for more than 15 years with a specialty in science, nature, and the environment. Get in touch at or through Twitter at @lisasj.