Esquimalt man’s fascination for hummingbirds attracts world audience

Eric Pittman’s website, carrying live images of his backyard, is really humming these days with more than half a million hits from all over the world.

The 54-year-old Esquimalt resident shares his fascination with hummingbirds with people through his site, Hummingbirds Up Close. A camera trained on a nest currently has a mother hummingbird feeding her young.

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It’s a scene Pittman, an amateur photographer, has seen played out all year round, except for the month of August.

“The bird stays in our backyard — she kept having nests and I kept filming,” said Pittman.

While other species of hummingbirds migrate, the Annas hummingbird stays on Vancouver Island through the year.

“I’ve filmed active nests in every month except August, for some reason,” Pittman said.

“I saw them start nests on Christmas Day, then lay eggs in January.”

He’s been running a webcam for about four years. He had a half-million hits over the first year before the popularity tapered off. Then he got a call from the BBC which needed him to find a hummingbird nest in Alaska this spring for a documentary on wildlife there.

 

[Pitman has posted dozens of videos on his Facebook page.]

“The Rufous hummingbird migrates from Mexico to Alaska, so they want me to go up and find a nest for them,” Pittman said.

The BBC angle has made Pittman the focus of a media storm, which has even more viewers flocking to his hummingbird webcam.

“There are probably 300 people watching right now,” he said in an interview Sunday afternoon.

Over the years, Pittman has learned to spot hummingbird nests — they’re about the size of a golf ball and are randomly located in shrubs and trees.

“They’re very well cammouflaged,” he said.

He’s found about 60 nests during his explorations. Pittman finds them by watching the tiny birds zip around.

“I know what their sounds mean now, what the different kind of chatter means,” he said.

When the mother is bringing food to her chicks, he knows to watch for where she ends up.

The nests are remarkable feats of engineering, Pittman said. Birds weave together strands of spiders’ webs, moss and lichen.

“They literally bring it in, one little piece of spiderweb at a time, and there has got to be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pieces of web in there,” Pittman said.

The nest online now is the second by made by a female Pittman has named Flower.

“This is the second nest from Flower this year. She fledged her chicks and they moved about 20 feet and set up another nest, and had eggs in that.”

People can comment online about the hummingbirds’ activity, whether it’s feeding time or nap time.

“I get comments from people that they leave it on all day and they’re obsessed with it,” Pittman said.

Pittman spends 20 to 30 hours a week filming the hummingbirds, and then finds time for a day job selling windows for a Van Isle Windows.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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