The Western Hummingbird Partnership (WHP) is a developing network of partners collaborating to build an effective and sustainable hummingbird conservation program through science-based monitoring, research, habitat restoration/enhancement, and education/outreach efforts. WHP goals are to support projects, develop programs, and build partnerships that investigate what hummingbirds need to survive, successfully reproduce, and maintain thriving populations; and then to inform land managers, policy makers, and the public so habitats can be managed in ways that help hummingbirds and their communities thrive. In addition to directly influencing the conservation of hummingbirds and their habitats, the WHP can also contribute to an agency’s ability to meet their greater goals/priorities for conservation of ecosystems in general.
There are indications that at least some hummingbird populations are declining. Partners in Flight (PIF) has identified three of the 13 neotropical migrants that breed in the USA and Canada and over-winter in Mexico as Watch List Species—Costa’s (Calypte costae), Calliope (Stellula calliope), and Rufous (Selasphorus rufus)—and a fourth—Lucifer (Calothorax lucifer)—as a Stewardship Species (Rich et al 2004). Based upon data from the Breeding Bird Survey since the mid-1960s, Rufous Hummingbird has an estimated 63% population loss and is considered a common species in steep decline by both PIF (Berlanga et al. 2010) and Audubon (National Audubon 2008). The USFWS 2008 Birds of Conservation Concern also listed Costa’s, Calliope, Lucifer, and Rufous as well as Allen’s (Selasphorus sasin), Blue-throated (Lampornis clemenciae), and Buff-bellied (Amazilia yucatanensis); seven species in total nationally. In the recently released PIF Tri-national Vision, eight additional Mexican species are identified as species of high conservation concern in North America (Berlanga et al. 2010). They are Shortcrested Coquette (Lophornis brachylophus), Mexican Woodnymph (Thalurania ridgwayi), Blue-capped Hummingbird (Eupherusa cyanophrys), White-tailed Hummingbird (Eupherusa poliocerca), Mexican Sheartail (Doricha eliza), Emerald-chinned Hummingbird (Abeillia abeillei), Garnet-throated Hummingbird (Lamprolaima rhami), and Wine-throated Hummingbird (Atthis ellioti).
In PIF’s Tri-national Vision, the most steeply declining species in temperate forests are birds dependent on disturbed and early successional habitat. Managing a mosaic of age classes of forests, as well as maintaining natural disturbance regimes such as fire, will be necessary to reverse declines of many forest birds (Berlanga et al. 2010). Since hummingbirds depend upon a variety of age classes of forests for nesting and foraging, addressing their conservation needs could provide land managers with a way to develop the needed mosaics of forest age classes and do this with the valuable support of a diversity of conservation professionals and volunteers. Thus, the WHP can also contribute to an agency’s, a land manager’s, and/or a landowner’s ability to meet their greater goals/priorities for conservation of ecosystems in general.
Despite their diversity and extreme popularity with humans, hummingbirds have received relatively little attention from a conservation standpoint. Recent evidence from the Breeding Bird Survey and other sources suggest worrisome population declines in some hummingbird species that breed in the western United States and Canada and migrate south to winter in Mexico and beyond. For these, plus many additional North American species restricted to Mexico, scientists do not have sufficient information to determine the causes of observed declines, assess population trends, or provide a full understanding of their ranges, movements, and natural histories.
Since most North American hummingbirds live in and rely on forests, the United States Forest Service (USFS) is an important partner for hummingbird conservation. The mission of the USFS is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The USFS currently manages resources on 191 million acres throughout the USA, but relies heavily on lands under other ownerships to support conservation of shared species, including migratory birds.
Within the National Forests, conservation of migratory birds focuses on providing a diversity of habitat conditions at multiple spatial scales and ensuring that bird conservation is addressed when planning for land management activities. USFS International Programs provides assistance in protection and sound management of the world’s resources under the International Forestry Cooperation Act of 1990 (PL 101-513 Title VI; 6 U.S.C.4501-4505, November 5, 1990, as amended 1992 and 1994). Specifically, the Wings Across the Americas Program (WATA) represents an integrated and collaborative approach to bird, bat, butterfly, and dragonfly conservation internationally and across all USFS program areas. Concern for the health and sustainability of hummingbirds prompted WATA to approach the USFS Pacific Southwest Region (R5) for initiation of an international effort to address this concern. Based on partner recommendations and WATA funding, R5 partnered with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network (HMN) to develop the Western Hummingbird Project, which is now the Western Hummingbird Partnership (WHP).
In April 2009, scientists, land managers, and conservationists from Mexico, the United States, and Canada came together for a multi-day workshop in Tucson, Arizona, funded by USFS International Programs and HMN, to discuss the conservation needs of North American hummingbirds. This first major meeting of the Western Hummingbird Partnership included 82 representatives from 34 diverse institutions that included government agencies, non-profit conservation organizations, universities, and individuals. The workshop goals were to: create a common understanding about the state of knowledge and conservation of hummingbirds; identify gaps in our knowledge; and develop recommendations for key actions and projects that will best use the available resources to advance hummingbird conservation. The workshop culminated with a partner meeting at El Coronado Ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains where conclusions and recommendations were made by the group. The information generated at the April 2009 Workshop was used to create a Western Hummingbird Partnership Action Plan and a variety of projects and activities promoting hummingbird conservation already underway became high priority action items for WHP.
Environment for the Americas (EFTA), a non-profit organization that works to promote bird conservation across the Western Hemisphere, joined WHP in 2006. Because of the organization’s work across borders and experience managing collaboration, EFTA began coordinating WHP in 2015.
Partners are key to the success of WHP. The participation of organizations, both federal and non-federal, contributes expertise from biologists, educators, and researchers who inform the activities of WHP. Long-term partners include Klamath Bird Observatory, Point Blue Conservation Science, and the University of Guadalajara. U.S. Forest Service International Programs has provided essential financial support, expertise, and participation.
The conservation programs developed will include science-based monitoring, research, habitat restoration/enhancement, and education/outreach, including a strong integration with citizen scientists, with the mission of working together to maintain thriving hummingbird populations and their habitats. The focus on hummingbirds, a particularly charismatic group of species, will contribute to the conservation of important habitats and can serve as an indicator of the impacts of a changing climate on wildlife. With clearly defined partners and focus, the WHP has the potential to have far-reaching conservation impacts.