‘Yosemite Sam’: A California Hummingbird That Got Lost and Landed In Saskatoon, Canada

By Hannah Lozada

Many birds, especially “Costa’s hummingbirds” typically don’t get lost while migrating. However, around mid-October a hummingbird nicknamed, ‘Yosemite Sam,’ flew 1,900 kilometers (About 1180 miles) north and landed in a backyard located in Saskatoon, Canada. 

The unexpected arrival of the hummingbird surprised several bird enthusiasts around the area because Yosemite Sam is a species of hummingbird called, “Costa’s hummingbird” which is not native to Canada. The bird is native to the Southwestern United States and Western Mexico, which made local residents question how Yosemite Sam traveled to Canada in the first place. 

Geoff Koehler, an Environment Canada Chemist was curious about how the small hummingbird got to Saskatoon. His team decided to utilize a technique called, “stable isotope analysis” on Yosemite Sam’s tail feather, which allows the researchers to determine where the bird came from.

According to CBC, Koehler stated, “The bird was hatched around the Yosemite National Park area.” The bird’s birth location would inspire his new nickname: “Yosemite Sam.” 

Birds normally migrate south during the winter. However, Yosemite Sam migrated north instead. Koehler stated that the accident is called reverse migration. “Instead of going south they go north, they don’t go east or west,” Koehler stated according to a CBC interview. 

Koehler stated that this is the first time that his team was able to observe a case of reverse migration. It’s also their first time to discover the birthplace of a bird using the isotope technique. 

During the interview with CBC, Koehler explained, “If a bird goes the wrong way [during migration], it doesn’t make it through the winter. This little bird was lucky to have found a home in Saskatoon where he could be rescued.”

After Yosemite Sam was discovered in the yard, the owners called Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation, which is a Saskatoon charity that assists animals that are injured or orphaned until they can return back to the wild. 

Jan Shadick, the executive director of Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation stated that Yosemite Sam is in good condition. Yosemite Sam is currently thriving in a cage that feels like his correct migration destination, California. He is also enjoying an expensive diet of fruit flies and special protein drinks with ingredients from the United States. 

Shadick stated, “We do hear him flying around, buzzing and chirping. Hopefully he’s not too bored and he’s having enough fun that he’s willing to hang out with us until spring.”

Shadick hopes to release Yosemite Sam back into the wild by finding a rehabilitation center in California. However, an export permit is required to bring him home since he has crossed the international borders. The California rehabilitation center requires an import permit in order for Yosemite Sam to be admitted inside. 

If this plan doesn’t work, Shadick will bring Yosemite Sam to a rehabilitation center located in British Columbia, where other Costa’s Hummingbirds have been spotted. However provincial borders still require permits. 

If both of these plans don’t work, will Shadick release Yosemite Sam from Saskatoon instead of bringing him to a rehabilitation center? Shadick states that she isn’t sure that he would have an instinct to migrate south, “1,900 kilometers is a long way to go, and there’s some concern that releasing him here would not necessarily bode well for him. He may not make it back.” 

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