Peter Stangel, Ph.D.
Posted: June 10, 2013, 5:00 p.m. PDT
If every WildBird reader implemented one of these simple and affordable steps to benefit hummingbirds, we might jump-start hummingbird species numbers and habitat conservation. The economy will benefit to boot.
Hang a hummingbird feeder
I can’t claim that hoisting a hummingbird feeder holds strong bird conservation value, but I can guarantee that you will experience hours of viewing pleasure. I enjoy feeding all birds, but none provide more entertainment than hummers.
With only two hummingbird feeders, our back porch is like a major international airport for most of the summer — minus the benefit of the Federal Aviation Administration controlling the incoming aircraft. Six or eight Ruby-throated Hummingbirds always zoom between the feeders, chasing each other with gusto. I’ll bet that our hummers burn half their daily caloric intake just fussing at each other.
Purchasing hummingbird feeders to hang around your home will not only provide hours of viewing pleasure, but will also benefit the economy by boosting consumer spending.
We spend a lot of time sitting on the porch where the hummingbird feeders hang, so the hummingbirds tolerate us. They hover in front of us, appearing to investigate the floral patterns on my wife’s blouse or the colored logos on my baseball cap.
I assume that they can see us when they buzz around, but sometimes they come so close that I’m not sure they are even aware of our presence. Our big German shepherds retreat into the house just to avoid close calls with these twittering missiles.
When you enact this part of the stimulus plan, pick a feeder with caution. Go as elaborate and decorative as you wish, but purchase an easy-to-clean feeder.
Buying a hummingbird feeder boosts consumer spending. Staying at home watching hummers cuts down on driving and might help greenhouse gas emissions.
The sugary mixture that hummingbird species eat provides fertile ground for mold, which can harm the birds. Before refilling the feeder with fresh sugar-water, thoroughly clean the feeder. In warm weather, you likely need to clean the feeder — or feeders — every couple days.
Hand cleaning is fine, but plastic feeders that disassemble easily and withstand the dishwasher save some hassle. Experts recommend using a diluted vinegar solution to lift away mold that accumulates in a feeder’s cracks and crevices.
Economic benefits: Buying a hummingbird feeder boosts consumer spending. Staying at home watching hummers cuts down on driving and might help greenhouse gas emissions. Getting buzzed back by your first hummer? Priceless.
Increase hummingbird habitat
Many birders don’t realize that hummers feed on many natural items other than the sugar water in our feeders. "My” hummingbirds regularly visit the blossoms in our yard where they find nectar as well as small insects that provide protein, vitamins and minerals — especially important for nestlings. The next step in our stimulus plan for hummers involves improving the hummingbird habitat in your yard or on your patio.
Many trees, shrubs, vines and flowering plants attract hummingbirds. Try to select species native to your area, because these often require less water and prove to be more disease-resistant. Visit a local wild bird retail store or native plant nursery for suggestions, or search for "native plant society” online to find the website of the nearest chapter.
Because hummingbirds eat insects, avoid pesticides on your plants whenever possible. If contractors spray your house to remove pests, talk with them.
I learned recently that the company that does our home also sprays the shrubs surrounding the house — the shrubs that the hummers visit for food and perches. After a little education about hummer and bird needs, I might have converted my pest control guy.
Economic benefits: Purchases of plants, fertilizers and garden equipment create good news for the local and national economy.
The next step in our stimulus plan for hummers involves improving the hummingbird habitat in your yard or on your patio.
Introduce youth to the global community
Believe it or not, that tiny hummingbird at your hummingbird feeder probably migrates to Mexico or Central America after it leaves your yard in the fall. Take advantage of this migration marvel to teach young people about birds, conservation, culture, language and geography.
Bill Hilton Jr. at Hilton Pond Nature Center for Piedmont Natural History in York, S.C., developed a program called Operation RubyThroat – in honor of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds — to monitor these birds throughout their life cycle. Although targeted at kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and students, anyone can do it.
Consider sharing it with home-schooled children, Scout troops, 4-H, Future Farmers of America and other youth. In addition to learning more about hummers, you and the minors will contribute to our knowledge about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds’ migration by reporting observations to a central database.
Economic benefits: Although Operation RubyThroat costs nothing, the payoff for introducing youth to different countries and cultures could be priceless in terms of future eco-tourism and support for scientific research.
Adopt a hummingbird
If Washington, D.C., stands at the center of American politics, southeastern Arizona serves the hotbed for hummingbirds. For us Easterners accustomed to just one hummingbird species, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, at our feeders, a visit to a feeding station in Arizona resembles a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts. There seems to be no end to the variety of offerings.
Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory in Bisbee has taken advantage of the species diversity and abundance to create a research and education center committed to bird conservation. One of its main activities is trapping and banding hummingbirds, which contributes to our knowledge about the various species’ travels and needs.
If you want to support this work, you can "adopt” one of the hummers that the researchers band. Prices start at $25 and include an adoption certificate, a biography on the species, e-mail or letter updates if researchers recapture the bird and a one-year membership to the observatory.
Of course, a contribution supports the observatory’s research as well as hummingbird conservation. Hummingbird aficionados might adopt birds for themselves or designate gifts for relatives, frie,nds or local classrooms.
Economic benefits: Donations support staff activities and maintain local jobs.
Look into The Hummingbird Society
The organization provides information about hummers and has taken a leading role in protecting some of our rarest species. Two of their efforts have focused on the endangered Juan Fernandez Firecrown in Chile and the Honduran Emerald.
Executive Director Ross Hawkins takes an entrepreneurial approach to hummingbird conservation. In 2006, he convinced Clos LaChance Winery in San Martin, California, to create a series of wines highlighting threatened hummingbird species, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit a particular species. In the first year, sales generated more than $20,000 to help the Juan Fernandez Firecrown.
Economic benefits: Contributions to the society prime the bird conservation pump, and buying the special wine helps California’s economy while possibly improving your outlook.
5 Step Plan
Hang a sugar-water feeder.
Plant native species that offer nectar, and avoid pesticides because hummingbirds eat insects.
Talk about Operation RubyThroat with children (www.rubythroat.org).
Explore hummingbird research (Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory: www.sabo.org).
Learn about The Hummingbird Society (www.hummingbirdsociety.org)
Want to learn more about feeding hummingbirds? Check out these articles!
Hummingbird Feeder Placement
When To Set Out Hummingbird Feeders
Excerpt from WildBird May/June 2009 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing LLC. To purchase digital back issues of WildBird, click here.