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About Hummingbirds – More the just nectar

Rufous hummingbird female at nest by Rob Alexander

By Al and Jude Grass

Whenever we think about what hummingbirds need, like nectar, good nectar sources for energy. However, when considering the lives of these iconic birds, it becomes clear that nectar is only part of the story. These are points to consider:


Again this sweet liquid is a vital source of energy. Plants at Conservation area that provide quality nectar include salmonberry, red-flowering currant, blackberry, honeysuckle, Oregon Grape, and columbines.


Hummingbirds also require protein from consuming insects and spiders which are found on the flowers, and even decaying fruit. Fermenting fruit attracts fruit flies which hummers, with their keen eyesight pick out the air with pin-point accuracy!

More about spiders

The relationship between hummingbirds and spiders is a fascinating one – and it is more than food! Hummers need spider silk as a way of binding nesting material. 

“Downy” plants

Nesting hummingbirds use a variety of nesting materials – plant and animal. Important plant materials include cattail (down, willow (down), and cottonwood (fluff). Post yourself in an area where cattails have gone to seed, and you are bound to see a Rufous gathering “down”


What have lichens got to do with hummingbirds? quite a lot it turns out. Lichens are placed on the nest (with spider silk – a process called shingling. The standard explanation is that it is done for camouflage (and it certainly does that well). However, two other ideas are that lichens help to shed (absorb) moisture, and that lichens with their powerful antibiotics help deal with nest parasites.

Our local hummingbirds like Rufous and Anna’s appear to be very selective – a “favourite” are wax paper lichens (Pamela, sp.), commonly found growing on the bark of mature trees and old fence posts.


A good clean water source is also a necessity – hummingbirds bathe.

It is clear, that while nectar is essential, it is only one part of a hummingbird’s life story. Happy birding!

– Al and Jude Grass

Note: local hummingbirds’ checklist (seasonal – Birds of Great Vancouver B.C (Nature Vancouver 2018)

  • Rufous hummingbird -spring/summer
  • Calliope – rare
  • Anna’s resident

Did you know? Hummingbirds are related to swifts – it is true!

Be sure to consult Maplewood’s Checklist for a list of species and status – it is a wonderful resource.

Photo by Rob Alexander

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