Hummingbird chills in Tri-Cities

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 4, 2013 

The latest arctic blast to hit the Tri-Cities hasn't stopped a tiny hummingbird from showing up in Dan and Pamela Lanning's backyard this winter.

So why is a hummingbird hanging around cold climates in the winter instead of flying south? This Anna's Hummingbird might be the only hummingbird variety that has adapted to the cold winters of Southeastern Washington, bird experts say.

"She showed up two days before Thanksgiving and has come here every morning at the first light of day since," said Pamela Lanning of Kennewick. "When I go out on the patio with the feeder each morning, I call to her, making a (pishing) noise, and she shows up in a matter of moments, just like clockwork."

The hummingbird sits, sometimes for up to an hour, in the Lannings' rose of Sharon bush outside their bedroom window.

"We can see her up close for long periods of time, which is very unusual for a hummingbird, as they usually are flitting all over the place," Pamela Lanning said. "We strung a strand of red Christmas lights through that bush in hopes it would help keep her warm on these frigid winter days."

But once daylight starts to fade, the little bird flies somewhere else, though the Lannings haven't a clue where since there are no tall trees in the neighborhood good for nesting.

The couple, who are members of the Columbia Basin Audubon Society, live in the Creekstone subdivision in south Kennewick off 27th Avenue. The housing development is fairly new so trees haven't had time to grow tall for nesting, she added.

To encourage the hummingbird to stay in their yard, the Lannings set up a heating pad with a protective plastic cover around the feeder and water receptacles so they don't freeze during the day.

"She is such a delight to watch and brings us so much joy every day," Pamela Lanning said. "We can also watch her from our dining room window when she perches in our snowball bush."

The National Audubon Society describes Anna's hummingbird as a medium-sized hummingbird with a relatively short, straight bill and a long sloping forehead. The females have green heads, with a small amount of red on their throats and black tails with white tips. The males have solid blackish-gray tails and iridescent red heads.

The Seattle Audubon Society website states that Anna's hummingbirds are a common sight in the Puget Sound area but are more rare east of the Cascade mountains.

Lisa Hill of Richland, a longtime Audubon member, has a wealth of knowledge about hummingbirds. She also has a yard abundant with the kind of floral and fauna that attract all sorts of wildlife.

"Anna's live year round all along the West Coast," Hill said. "Hummers eat a lot of small insects in addition to nectar. I don't know if there are more birds than usual this year, or if more people are noticing them."

Two Anna's hummingbirds were catalogued during the recent Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 29 in the Tri-Cities. Both were seen in Pasco. Hill also says there's a good reason the Lanning's hummingbird disappears at night.

"When food is scarce or in cold temps, hummers go into a state of torpor at night," Hill said. "It is a mini-hibernation where their heart rate and metabolism slow down dramatically to conserve energy."

But when dawn breaks, the little birds are ready to recharge their systems with food, which could be why the Lannings' hummingbird comes running when Pamela Lanning brings the feeder out each morning.

The Lannings' backyard is a bird haven with young trees and bushes and an abundance of food and water to feed upon. But occasionally danger enters the yard, like the hawk that showed up Thursday morning.

Pamela Lanning worries a bit about the predators who could harm the hummingbird, but understands the laws of nature don't always have happy endings.

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