The Hummingbirds of Alberta

Alberta is in the Canadian sweet spot for hummingbird species, with three regularly occurring species. Rarer species often show up at feeders through the year, so it pays to keep your eyes open.

Ruby-throated, Calliope, and Rufous Hummingbirds are the common species in Alberta. Anna’s, Black-chinned, and Costa’s Hummingbirds have also been documented in the province with a few records of confirmed sightings.

Hummingbirds start arriving in Alberta around the beginning to middle of May (depending on where you live), so put your feeders up at the beginning of the month. One of the largest bird-feeding myths surrounding the feeding of hummingbirds is that leaving a feeder out too late in the season will delay their migration. This is just not true. The urge to migrate far outweighs a feeder full of sugar water. But leaving feeders up in the fall and getting them up early in spring may help early or late migrants passing through the area.

Take, for example, this wayward Costa’s Hummingbird that showed up in Sherwood Park last October and was seen at the same feeder for over a month and a half. Costa’s Hummingbirds rarely make it outside of Arizona and southern California, so it was very odd to have one show up in Alberta.

The Costa's Hummingbird that showed up at a feeder in Sherwood Park last fall. Photograph by Janice Hurlburt, used with permission.

The Costa’s Hummingbird that showed up at a feeder in Sherwood Park last fall. Photograph by Janice Hurlburt, used with permission.

Many people get excited to have a hummingbird visit their feeders, so here are some tips for attracting and keeping hummingbirds in your yard, as well as the “recipe” for sugar water.

Below, I’ve listed the three most common hummingbird species found in Alberta:

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been documented in all regions of the province except the Canadian Shield, and have the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird. Adult males are metallic green on the upperparts, iridescent ruby red on the throat, white on the underparts, and green along the sides. Adult females look similar to males but with a finely streaked throat, greyish belly, and buff along the sides of the belly. Immature males look similar to females but with red streaks down the throat.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are long-distance migrants, flying non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico to southern Mexico and Central America to spend the winter.

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A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at one of my feeders

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Left, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding on petunias. Right, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at one of my feeders.

Calliope Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in North America, often misidentified as large bees. Calliope Hummingbirds frequent the foothills, mountains, and the Peace River area in Alberta. Calliopes can be identified by their overall small size, green upper parts and pink streaks on the male’s throat that form a V-shaped gorget. Females have dull white throat, a buff chest, and belly.

While Calliopes might be small, they are extremely territorial and can chase away birds as big as Red-tailed Hawks from their breeding territory. The hummingbird gets its name from Calliope, the muse of eloquence and epic poetry in ancient Greek mythology.

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A male Calliope Hummingbird. Photograph by Daniel Arndt, used with permission.

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A male Calliope Hummingbird. Photograph by Daniel Arndt, used with permission.

Rufous Hummingbirds are known for being very feisty and extremely territorial. Look for them in the Rocky Mountains, foothills, and the boreal forest. In bright lighting, male Rufous Hummingbirds are bright orange on the back and belly, with an iridescent red throat. Females are green with rufous flanks, rufous on the base of the rounded tail, and a few orange spots on the throat.

Rufous Hummingbirds have the longest migration of any hummingbird species, travelling more than 3,500 miles from their breeding grounds to their Mexico wintering grounds. They travel north up the Pacific Coast in spring and return by the Rocky Mountains in the late summer and fall.

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A male Rufous Hummingbird. Photograph by Daniel Arndt, used with permission.

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A male Rufous Hummingbird. Photograph by Daniel Arndt, used with permission.

I’d like to thank Janice Hurlburt and Daniel Arndt for letting me use their hummingbird photos. You can find more of Daniel’s great hummingbird photographs on his Flickr page.

I’ll leave you with a few facts about hummingbirds:

— Hummingbirds are native species of the New World and are not found outside of the Western Hemisphere. A majority of the species are found in South America.

— A group of hummingbirds has many collective nouns, including a bouquet, glittering, hover, tune, and shimmer of hummingbirds.

— A hummingbird’s bright throat colour (gorget) is not caused by feather pigmentation, but by iridescence in the arrangement of the feathers and the influence of light level and moisture.

— An average hummingbird’s heart rate is more than 1,200 beats per minute.

— A hummingbird’s maximum forward flight speed is 48 km, or 30 miles, per hour, though the birds can reach up to 96 km, or 60 miles, per hour in a dive.

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A male Rufous Hummingbird. Photograph by Daniel Arndt, used with permission.

6 thoughts on “The Hummingbirds of Alberta

  1. I just love your post, I am a backyard bird lover. I make my small back yard into a bird haven, no cats allowed in my yard, I am 68 and read your post constantly

    Sent from my Kindle Fire

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