Animals

B.C. snow leads to record number of hummingbirds at wildlife rescue

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The prolonged snow and freezing temperatures over the past few weeks on British Columbia’s southern coast are also having a major impact on some local wildlife.

They were tending to an unprecedented number of hummingbirds, when they see only a few in late December, said Linda Packer of the Burnaby Wildlife Rescue Society.

“In the last week of December we usually see a handful of hummingbirds, and now we see 10 times more,” she said. “We had a day eating 15 hummingbirds in one day.”

The association’s co-executive said that fast-flying birds have a high metabolism, and finding food to feed themselves is becoming more and more difficult with feeders freezing.

“We see them dehydrated, emaciated, and lethargic,” she said. “Sometimes when they try to feed off a feeder, their tongue actually freezes into the feeder.”

Packer said Thursday that there are currently about 20 hummingbirds in their care. Small patients can also require manual feedings every 15 minutes, and they aren’t the only creatures that need help in greater numbers.

“We see a lot of…” she said. “They live at high altitudes and come down to town, so they struggle to find food.”

The influx comes at the end of an already unusually crowded year in general, characterized by severe weather.

“We had over 6000 takeouts. The year before we had about 4,800 said Packer. “All of the environmental events definitely have an impact on wildlife, and on our operations…Today not many volunteers can attend because they are stuck in the snow.”

On southern Vancouver Island, the BC SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center, or Wild ARC, reported caring for 3,128 patients last year, surpassing the previous high of 3,066 in 2017.

In winter, Andrea Wallace, director of wildlife care for the organization, said that many of the creatures that do appear injured by cars, or in some cases, see sick birds from eating at contaminated feeders. Inclement weather could also have an effect, she said.

“Food, water, and shelter are the three main things that all living things need…and during these extreme events some of these things can be hard to find,” Wallace said. “In sub-zero temperatures, people can put in a bird bath or some other water source and make sure the water is changed daily…You can also bring in a hummingbird feeder at night.”

She also recommended that bird feeders be cleaned regularly and thoroughly, and added that if people find wild animals hiding on their property in the winter, they may just be shelter, and disturbing them could lead to a loss of valuable energy.

While warmer temperatures are on the way, until the snow has cleared, Packer expects more birds will need help.

“For hummingbirds right now, taking care of feeding is really important,” she said. “Keep it clean, prevent freezing, give proper food…Sugar water is best.”

For tips on how to prevent hummingbirds from freezing from feeding, and when you should seek help with birds, visit the online Wildlife Rescue Association.

The BCSPCA also has information online about wildlife behavior and needs in winter, and how to avoid vehicle collisions with animals at this time of year.

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