One of my favourite rituals of spring is to seek out the very first flowers of the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). Once I’ve found a good patch of blooms, I settle in and listen for quick, low humming sound whizzing by my ears. There! A rufous hummingbird, hovering for salmonberry nectar. Winter is over.
The rufous hummingbird spends its winter months in Mexico, making its way northward as spring approaches. That’s an awfully long haul for such a tiny bird. In fact, if you measure in body lengths, the rufous hummingbird has the longest migration in the bird world.
Having two homes, however, comes at a cost. And to survive a long and dangerous migration, timing is everything. One doesn’t want to arrive too early; lack of blooming flowers (not to mention freezing spring temperatures) can be fatal. On the other hand, the more hesitant types may find all the good territories snapped up by the time they arrive. So there is strong pressure on the birds to time their arrival with the earliest of the nectar flowers in bloom. Around here, those are the salmonberries. Nowadays, mind you, a walk around our island’s residential areas reveals dozens of exotic flowers that bloom before the salmonberries. Are the hummingbirds arriving earlier to take advantage of them? Well, not the rufous, at any rate. That niche seems to have been filled by the Anna’s hummingbird, originally a bird of the south-western US that has moved into BC over the last fifty years.
Call them old-fashioned, but the rufous hummingbirds still keep to their traditional calendar, honed by trial and error over the millennia.