The chickadees, the spotted towhees and a downy woodpecker pay you no attention as they flit from branch to branch or peck at seeds on the snow-covered ground — it’s like you’re in the middle of a Hallmark Christmas card.
One chickadee is so bold as to drink some nectar out of the hummingbird feeder at the Wildlife Rescue Association grounds at Burnaby Lake, which takes some courage if you’ve ever seen a hummingbird defend its feeder against rivals.
In the new medical building next door are 12 Anna’s hummingbirds — their emerald feathers and rose-pink throats sparkling iridescently — ones who were freezing on someone’s patio or balcony, were brought in and nursed back to health, and who will be released when the weather warms up again.
“The feeders have frozen, and the birds are in distress,” said volunteer Vindi Sekhon.
Hummingbirds migrate from as far away as Mexico, but many overwinter in the Lower Mainland because of a proliferation of feeders since the 1990s, Sekhon said. She suggested having two feeders on hand, switching them morning and night, or buying a feeder heater (a lightbulb or string of Christmas lights will do, as well).
How to tell if a hummingbird is in distress?
“You don’t see hummingbirds on the ground,” Wildlife Rescue co-executive director Linda Bakker said. “If you see a hummingbird on the ground, something is wrong.”
Bakker also cautioned against hand-feeding any struggling hummingbird you might come across, because sweetened water removes their feathers’ natural waterproofing.
“And then a drop of water or snow goes straight to their skin when it would normally roll off the feathers.”
The volunteer staff at Wildlife Rescue numbers 230, including “vet techs,” rescue personnel, drivers and photographer Paul Steeves, who has been at the sanctuary for 27 years and knows which branch is the favourite of which bird.
Current patients include the cutest golden-crowned kinglet, a white trumpeter swan with frostbite that was flown in from the Northwest Territories and swims in an indoor pool, and an American white pelican whose wing was impaled by a fishing hook and will be reunited with his (rare) flock at their colony at Williams Lake this spring (for now, big mirrors give him an appearance of having company).
As a reporter and photographer hovered and generally got in the way inside the medical building, the traffic was constant, new arrivals being brought in the door seemingly every five or 10 minutes.
One, a dark-eyed junco, apparently flew into a window at top speed.
“You can tell he has severe head trauma because he can’t keep his head up,” volunteer Meghan Coghlan said.