A female Calliope hummingbird checks out a feeder for sugar & water syrup that mimics flower nectar. (Jodi Forster photo)

A female Calliope hummingbird checks out a feeder for sugar & water syrup that mimics flower nectar. (Jodi Forster photo)

Flight of the hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird

With 50 wing beats a second, photographing a hummer in flight is quite the challenge!

I like surprises. How about a nice backyard feeder photo of our smallest avian visitor, a Rufous Hummingbird…in flight!

Such a sight on a Penticton Facebook page got me thinking about these little birds.

Hummers buzz about at high speed, usually only coming to rest when feeding, and prefer to hover rather than perch.

With 50 wing beats a second, photographing a hummer in flight is quite the challenge!

But just seeing a Rufous can make my day.

It’s a standout visitor in its conspicuous rusty red, a perfect example of all that make hummingbirds so unique. One of the smallest of the hummers they’re only eight centimetres in length.

On average, our hummingbird visitors are between that size and 12.5 cm, or five inches. In fact, hummers are so small their nests are about the size of a golf ball and their eggs are hazelnut proportions.

Only a few of the estimated 350 members of the hummingbird family spend time in the Okanagan. In addition to the Rufous, we’re most likely to see the Calliope.

It’s a lovely iridescent green with a male chin ruff that flashes brilliant magenta in the light. Keep eyes open too for the Black-chinned Hummingbird. It sports an identifying dark head and black chin ruff.

Near my rural home a few years ago, repeated flights by a female Calliope convinced me she was coming and going to a nest. Watching closely, I finally spotted a miniature, lichen covered, spider webbed construction…ah hah!

To avoid losing it in the tangle of branches I had to mark the ground so I could watch from the same position each day. Diligence rewarded!

I saw the hatchlings pop up above the nest edge, just little heads, mom plunging her beak into gapping throats.

In only a few weeks, they were beating their wings, ready to fledge. Then off foraging for themselves, darting for insects and probing for nectar with their long thin beaks. Imagine how these little birds migrate thousands of kilometers to visit us each spring and summer. We’ve become a necessary convenience, especially if we’re generous with our feeders and attractive flower plantings.

Alas, we often overlook their contribution.

Concerned about insects? These compact bug eaters snatch their body weight in insects every day. They help control pesky mosquitoes and decimate fruit flies, aphids, beetles, and even ants.

Concerned about plant pollination? To keep their little bodies energized they can knock back their weight, and more, in nectar every day too.

That’s another plus for us. While they happily forage among our native and garden flowers they are picking up and distributing pollen.

How can we return the favour? Clean our feeders regularly and keep syrup topped up.

Make our windows and glass balcony railings visible so these precious hummers won’t crash when moving at high speed.

Add simple designs to windows and outdoor glass panels with a silver felt pen or decal. That way you can protect, and enjoy these tiny feathered whirligigs.

Nature Wise is a column written by Dianne Bersea.

Just Posted

There was high voter turnout for the first of three advance voting days for the Penticton city by-election.
Penticton city by-election general voting day is today, June 19

737 voters on June 9 in comparison to 2018 general election, which had 1,001 on first day

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 Penticton-area men charged with Kamloops brothers’ double homicide

Brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May in Naramata

(File photo)
Penticton not holding Canada Day activities out of respect for Indigenous people

Cities across B.C. are cancelling the holiday after an increased spotlight on Canada’s dark history

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

JAK's Liquor Store in Penticton will be donating 10 per cent of its sales on Saturday, June 19, to the Penticton Salvation Army Food Bank. (Photo from JAKS.com)
Stock up your liquor cabinet and support the Penticton food bank

Jak’s beer and wine store is donating a portion of sales to local food banks Saturday

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

Most Read