The highly charismatic nature of hummingbirds and the corresponding public interest in them provides a strong basis for successfully integrating public outreach, environmental education, and citizen science components into conservation efforts for these species. While the current gaps in our knowledge about many of the ecological attributes of hummingbirds can present a challenge for the design of education and outreach programs, they also represent an opportunity to involve the public in collecting valuable basic ecology information and to become invested in hummingbird conservation. Through the WHIN, the WHP seeks to make credible knowledge about hummingbirds available and to engage wide audiences through programs that address gaps in our scientific understanding of these species and the conservation challenges they face.
Given the migratory nature of many hummingbirds in North America and the large number of species concentrated in Central and South America, education and outreach efforts should focus on the need to conserve all pertinent hummingbird habitats, including breeding areas, wintering areas, and migration corridors. Each of the major conservation concerns identified for hummingbirds (climate change, invasive species, and habitat loss) span hummingbirds’ ranges, and successful conservation initiatives will need to address these challenges throughout the Americas. This will necessitate an international approach and require partnerships between many different groups to be effective. With such a widely varying (birders, ranchers, land managers, researchers, students, community representatives, and others) and culturally diverse audience, design of outreach and education programs must be targeted to specific audiences to be effective.
In addition to the acknowledged gaps in our scientific understanding of many hummingbird species, there appears to be a lack of knowledge among much of the public about the conservation challenges facing hummingbirds, despite a widespread appreciation for these species. These gaps in public knowledge span the spectrum from broad scale issues such as a lack of understanding about the migratory nature of many hummingbirds (and thus the need to support conservation efforts throughout their range), to more specific issues such as the impacts of hummingbird feeders (and the need to properly maintain them). Furthermore, there seem to be some audience-specific knowledge gaps related to hummingbird conservation and public outreach, environmental education, citizen science. The scientific community may not be fully aware of the current state of our knowledge about hummingbirds and their associated conservation challenges.
Hummingbird – Mighty Puffball
What bird can fly straight up and down, backwards and forwards, and even upside down? A hummingbird can do all this, and fly up to 75 miles an hour. And most amazing of all? This bird can slow from 25 miles an hour to a dead stop in a space no longer than your index finger. Learn more about this Rufous Hummingbird at Cornell’s AllAboutBirds. Find out more about hummingbird migration – and what hummingbirds might be coming your way – at HummingbirdWorld. You can learn how to attract hummingbirds to your yard at Hummingbirds.net.
Hummingbird Migration Myths
Does a hummingbird migrate by hitching a ride on the back of a goose? Not exactly. This Rufous Hummingbird flies 49,000,000 times its body-length as it makes its full migration loop. That’s about like a human traveling more than 50,000 miles! They can fly forwards, backwards, or hover in one spot. Learn more about hummingbird migration at JourneyNorth. Nancy Rumbel composed and played today’s music.
Thirsty Rufous Hummingbird
Hummingbirds need to consume five times their body weight each day. This Rufous Hummingbird of the West is looking for flowering plants to quench that mighty thirst on its spring migration. A feeder would work, too. Put a hummingbird feeder up in your yard, and see who turns up!
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds that nest in the Eastern states. Most Ruby-throats spend the winter in Central America. By March, some males are already returning to the Southeast. But it’s well into April before they reach the northern states. Female hummingbirds arrive a couple weeks later. What hummingbird might you see in your region? Check out hummingbirds.net. Put up a feeder and attract one to your yard.
Why a Gorget Glitters
A hummingbird’s brilliant throat feathers are called a “gorget,” a term applied in past centuries to the metallic swatch protecting the throat of a knight-in-armor. Light waves reflect and refract off the throat feathers, creating color in the manner of sun glinting off a film of oil on water. The gorget of this Rufous Hummingbird is stunning!
Tiniest Bird on the Continent
The tiniest bird in continental North America: the Calliope Hummingbird – a 3-1/4-inch jewel, weighing in at just a tenth of an ounce. These birds migrate north each spring from Western Mexico. From its perch, a male Calliope Hummingbird surveys its territory. This exquisite bird was named for the Greek muse of epic poetry, and it’s the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world.
A Natural Feast for Hummingbirds
Hoping to attract hummingbirds to your yard or balcony? One way is to grow native plants. Native plants provide cover, and they offer nectar in spring and summer. They also attract insects, the most important part of a hummingbird’s diet. Just add a source of water for drinking and bathing, and you’ll have a hummingbird haven. Check out some guides to native plants of the East and the West. Or find a Master Gardener near you who can help you choose plants for your garden.
Audubon and the Ruby-throat
Strictly birds of the Americas, hummingbirds don’t exist in the Old World. John James Audubon, the French naturalist who spent his adult life studying and painting the birds of North America, saw only this Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a bird of eastern North America. Audubon described the Ruby-throat as a “glittering fragment of the rainbow.”
A Rufous in the Rain
In a garden near the McKenzie River in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, a downpour pummels the landscape. Imagine this Rufous Hummingbird out and about, extracting nectar, searching for gnats and aphids. No doubt, she’s feeding nestlings that await her return. Her stamina against the heavy rain is marvelous. Consider this: her body is nine and a half centimeters long; the average raindrop is about four millimeters. That would be like a person five foot eight being pounded by a torrent of raindrops each three inches across. Incredible!
Anna’s Hummingbirds Winter in the North
Most hummingbirds retreat south in autumn, but Anna’s Hummingbirds are found in northern latitudes throughout the year. Since 1960, they’ve moved their year-round limit north from California to British Columbia. They’re taking advantage of flowering plants and shrubs, as well as hummingbird feeders. But how do they survive the northern cold? They suspend their high rate of metabolism by entering a state of torpor – a sort of nightly hibernation, where heart rate and body temperature are reduced to a bare minimum. Many hummingbirds, including those in the high Andes, rely on the same strategy.
Hummingbirds See Red
Red flowers, and of course red feeders, are often rich sources of food for hummingbirds, including this Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Nectar is high-octane fuel for their intensely active way of life. The hummingbirds’ sense of color is due to the dense concentration of cones in its retina. But it turns out that it’s the nectar, not the color that makes the most difference with hummingbirds.
Who was Anna?
The Anna’s Hummingbird is the only hummer that stays in the Northwest and West for the winter. How did this lovely jewel get its name? Anna’s Hummingbird was named for Princess Anna de Belle Massena. John James Audubon himself was charmed by her, but it was actually naturalist Rene Primevere Lesson who named the bird in her honor. Learn more about this dazzling jewel at Cornell’s AllAboutBirds. You’ll find a recipe for hummingbird nectar at SeattleAudubon.org.
Green Birds on St. Patrick’s Day
You’d think that with so much green in nature, many birds would be a’wearin’ the green for camouflage. Not just on St. Patrick’s Day, but every day. Yet very few of our birds cavort in Irish green. There be some wee exceptions, however – some of the hummingbirds, with their backs of bright green, including this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Here they come! Rufous Hummingbirds, Black-chins, Broad-bills, Ruby-throats like this one, and others are migrating north after a hot, dry winter in sunny Mexico or Central America. And they’re ready for a drink. You can help these thirsty birds by hanging a hummingbird feeder filled with the right kind of nectar. Select a feeder that you can easily clean on the inside, and one that has plenty of red to attract the birds. Then fill it with sugar water made by dissolving one part sugar in four parts water (use plain table sugar – no honey or sugar substitutes allowed). And please — no red food coloring!
A Treasure Chest of Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds’ names evoke their exquisite qualities and variety, from sabrewings to woodstars to sunangels-to this Green Violet-ear. Central and South America are home to well over 300 species of hummingbirds! Find out more about hummingbird migration — and what hummingbirds might be coming your way.
Hummingbirds at the Border
Thousands of hummingbirds – including these Ruby-throats – are now in southward migration. Hummingbirds that summer in the western US will arrive in the mountains of southern Arizona. (Ruby-throats take a more easterly route.) Countless hummingbird feeders provide continuous nectar in this hummingbird heaven. But with so many birds in competition, they fight constantly. Do raised levels of aggression alter the birds’ physiology and survival? What about the native flowers that evolved to be pollinated by hummingbirds? So many questions…
Hummingbirds at Home
During spring migration, hummingbirds like this Ruby-throat rely on the nectar of flowering plants. But flowers blooming earlier because of warming temperatures could affect them severely. To better understand and protect these marvelous birds, Audubon has launched a new citizen-science initiative: Hummingbirds at Home. The project will help scientists understand how climate change, flowering patterns, and feeding by people are affecting hummingbirds. Your reports could make a difference!
Rufous Hummingbirds’ Marvelous Nest
The nest-building skills of the female Rufous Hummingbird are amazing. She first weaves a cup of soft, fluffy plant material, then envelops it with moss and binds it with strands of spider web. The final touch: a layer of lichen flakes to provide perfect camouflage. A favorite nest site is the fork of a downward-drooping twig, perhaps low in a shrub or up higher in an old conifer. Watch a slideshow of a Rufous Hummingbird nesting season. Learn more about this amazing nest builder at Cornell’s All About Birds.
Dan Harville has banded more than 6,000 hummingbirds! He affixes a tiny aluminum ring bearing a unique number around the lower part of the bird’s left leg. That number will provide vital information to any bander who recaptures it. From the work of the banders, we know that a Rufous Hummingbird, like this one, returns to the same site every year, after flying perhaps more than 2,500 miles to Mexico and back. If you see a hummingbird or other bird wearing a band, please report it at ReportBand.gov.
Rufous Hummingbirds are on the Way
It’s March, and – following a winter sojourn in Mexico – thousands of fiery-orange male Rufous Hummingbirds are migrating northward, ahead of the females. Many pass through California on their way to breeding sites in the Northwest. To learn more about how to attract hummingbirds to your yard — and which might visit — see Hummingbirds.net.
Rufous Hummingbirds Head South
Right now in the Northwest, male Rufous Hummingbirds are heading south. By late July, they will pour into southeastern Arizona on their way to wintering areas in Mexico. The females and their offspring will leave later in the summer, some lingering until mid-September. Along the way, they will take advantage of the wildflowers blooming in north-south mountain ranges. Wherever you live, you can document the comings and goings of hummingbirds at Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program. Together, we can help hummingbirds!
Sapsuckers and Hummingbirds
The sapsucker is a type of woodpecker that notches rows of small holes in trees, causing sap to well out. The birds eat the sugary liquid flowing from these sapwells. Now tree sap is similar in sugar content to the nectar hummingbirds take from flowers. And it is no coincidence that just as the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers get their sapwells flowing in spring, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come migrating north. Several species of hummingbirds partake of the bounty of sap released by sapsuckers, even nesting close to active sapwells and following the sapsuckers as they fly from one sap tree to another.
Learn about western hummingbirds with this beautiful bilingual poster, illustrated by artist Ram Papish. Text on front and back is bilingual. Posters are 18″ x 24″ or 11″ x 17″ on lightweight paper. Easy to use for education purposes. Click the poster to purchase it on the Environment for the Americas online store.
The newest Jr. Birder Booklet: All About Hummingbirds, focuses on the fascinating world of hummingbirds. Activities include hummingbird identification, how hummingbirds fly, hummingbirds as pollinators, and more. Includes pages for student observations. Click on the links above to view the file in either Spanish or English.
Basic information on the natural history of hummingbirds and on the geographical distribution and morphological characteristics of all known hummingbird species to help in their identification by birdwatchers and nature lovers. Click on the link above to view the file.
A Hands-on Exploration of Hummingbirds is a curriculum that provides a variety of activities that can help children learn about different hummingbirds, their adaptations, plant phrenology, and more in a hands-on and exciting way. Click on the links above to view the curriculum in either Spanish or English. The following sites provide supplemental information relative to increasing public awareness and appreciation for hummingbirds and their habitats.
The signature program of Environment for the Americas (EFTA), is the only international education program that highlights and celebrates the migration of nearly 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. This website takes you to resources you can use to promote IMBD and to outreach to your communities.
Engages students in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. K-12 students share their own field observations with classmates across North America. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, robins, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, gray whales, bald eagles, and other birds and mammals; the budding of plants; changing sunlight; and other natural events.
Offering a variety of education activities that may be adapted to many ages. Participants learn how hummingbirds feed, how to create a garden for hummingbirds, and much more. The lesson plans and activities may be adapted for other hummingbird species.
Resources for Getting Started
Examples of Phenology Trails
Changes in precipitation patterns and fire ecology in some parts of the range could be impacting food sources and thus hummingbird populations. Even hummingbird feeders could be an issue, by harboring disease, or altering natural behavior patterns. We lack the information to know what is limiting populations, or even if the decline is being adequately measured by broadscale bird counting efforts. Hopefully more study will fill in those essential knowledge gaps.
In the north, few hummingbird-focused studies have taken place. To learn more about the Rufous Hummingbird in the temperate rain forest of Southeast Alaska, I began the Tongass Hummingbird Project began in 2013 near Juneau, Alaska, with the goal to band hummingbirds at regular intervals with similar effort each summer, using protocols adapted for Alaska from those used by the Hummingbird Monitoring Network and Rocky Point Bird Observatory.
Some interesting patterns are emerging form the banding results. Many adults are returning to the same spot each summer. The recapture rates should over time yield an index of survivorship. Several hummingbirds banded as juveniles have also returned. Each bird is photographed, and we are observing that while the red throat patches on females may become slightly larger and the back color of males may become slightly more red over time, the basic individual color pattern does not change. For example, if a female has just a few iridescent throat feathers the first year she was captured, she will still sport a small patch several years later.
The Juneau station has not had the luck of catching birds banded on winter grounds, but part of an adult female’s migration was charted. After being banded in Alaska in July, she was encountered in a passerine migration station’s mist net near Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta Canada, over 700 straight-line miles away to the Southeast, just one week later. She had been logging over 100 miles a day and was safely released to continue her journey.
In addition to banding, supplemental information about hummingbirds is sought from local birders, such as reporting the first arrivals in the spring, the date young birds appear, and forage plants used. Now, in partnership with Juneau Audubon Society, the THP is creating educational materials to inform homeowners to make their yards more friendly for hummingbirds, and how to properly maintain feeders if they choose to put them up.
It is my hope that banders, researchers, and citizen scientists will find more ways to team up, gather meaningful and comparative data, and better understand what actions we can take to help protect these amazing little birds.
This project is possible thanks to support from the US Forest Service, countless local volunteers, and the advice and materials from the hummingbird banding community.