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Anna’s Hummingbird in Winter

Anna's Hummingbird fluffed up to keep warm

Back in October, I wrote a post about the Anna’s Hummingbird that was hanging around in my backyard. It was king of the hummingbird feeder back then but I wondered if it would stick around through the cold winter months.

As these recent photos show, the little hummer is still with us. It perches on the same branches every day and chases off any other hummingbirds that come to drink from the feeder.

This bird has charmed me and my wife. We are amazed that it keeps going about its business even on the coldest, wettest days.

But of course, it has no choice but to remain vigorously active. A hummingbird must drink flower nectar (or sugar water) and eat insects continually to fuel its high metabolism. A turbo-charged metabolism is needed to power the flight muscles that work so hard and fast in hummingbirds. No other vertebrate animals have such high metabolisms.

Anna's Hummingbird at the feeder in winter

Due to their tiny body sizes and lack of downy feathers, hummingbirds lose body heat rapidly. A hummingbird can die within a few hours due to starvation or hypothermia if it does not eat. This is especially true during winter at higher latitudes. Most North American hummingbirds fly south to warmer climates for the winter. Anna’s Hummingbird is an exception.

Hummingbirds and many other small birds have a physiological adaptation that allows them to survive through the night, when they do not feed and when the air temperature drops. These birds enter a state called torpor, in which their metabolisms (and thus, their body temperatures) are dramatically lowered. In a state of torpor, a bird burns far fewer calories that when it is active. Torpor is like hibernation, except that it occurs on a daily, rather than annual, cycle.

In addition to lowering their metabolisms when they are unable to feed, hummingbirds combat the cold by fluffing up their feathers. This increases the amount of dead air space trapped in the feathers and increases their insulating power. Our little backyard hummer demonstrates this feather fluffing in the photo at the top of this post. Fluffing is not unique to hummingbirds– as far as I know, most (if not all) birds do this.

Hummingbirds are truly fascinating animals. I am honored to have one residing in my backyard. I hope that it stays through the spring and summer. If it does, you can expect more blog post updates!

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8 comments… add one

  • jill i March 10, 2012, 5:32 PM

    wow! amazing photos. hope this little guy sticks around for a while.

    • Ivan Phillipsen March 12, 2012, 11:58 AM

      Thanks, Jill! It will be interesting to see if the hummingbird keeps defending his territory through the warmer months, or if he moves on. In the last week, his head has sprouted a lot more of the purple-iridescent feathers. Perhaps he will be mature enough to find a mate this spring.

  • Carolyn March 18, 2012, 9:21 AM

    Thank you for sharing your beauty and knowledge.

  • Mike B. April 28, 2012, 11:28 AM

    We’ve had an Anna’s living here all year round for the past few years- I suspect it hasn’t always been the same one. They even survived the 15″ snowstorm from a few years back.

  • N.Still May 3, 2012, 3:43 PM

    I knew that hummingbirds had to sit still at some time but I had never witnessed it. One day about a year ago, I went to my mother’s kitchen window and just about the time I looked, a hummingbird caught my eye. He just sit on a limb, like ‘well,here I am.. being still for you”. The bird was spectacular. The colors on this bird were so pretty. It just did not last long enough.. It flew away almost instantly. I enjoyed that piece of artwork.. that day. I wish that I could have snapped a picture of it.. was a nice little peace added to my day..

  • Kareene November 22, 2012, 9:46 AM

    Hi …this summer I bought a bungalow in Vancouver and was amazed to discover that there was a hummingbird frequenting my yard …and that it would hover within a few feet of me at times. And …it would repeatedly come within my vicinity …and perch on a branch relatively close to me. I am amazed; it seemed almost tame. (Previously I had only observed humming birds as “flashes” at the corner of my eye!) Now that it is getting colder, I have put up a hummingbird feeder and am beginning to see multiple hummingbirds. I am thinking these are Anna’s Hummingbirds, but I saw one with a deep red helmet …and one of the pair that seem to be “residents” here has a red patch under the throat. I am trying to figure out what I have seen. —- When I took the hummingbird feeder away to mow that backyard, one of the hummingbirds came toward my kitchen window and seemed to “peak in” ….needless to say, I restored the feeder to its location …and the “window hovering” has not been repeated. Lots of activity at the feeder by no “defending” noted yet. They are so amazing. Thanks for all the details on their metabolism, etc. Gayle [ I have 2 Yuletide Camelias blooming right now in my front yard (deep red flowers) and I have seen hummingbirds feeding frequently at the bushes.].

  • Rachel B. August 27, 2013, 6:32 AM

    Do the male Anna’s hummingbirds change their color in the winter to look like the one you photographed, or is it just that he is a juvenile? I will have to try to spot one when I’m in the PNW this winter.

    • Ivan Phillipsen September 13, 2013, 11:02 PM

      Hi, Rachel. The bird I photographed was probably a juvenile male. I can’t say for certain that it isn’t a female– juvenile males and adult females look very similar. In any case, adult males keep their colors year round. Thanks for the question and sorry it took so long to get back to you!

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