Researchers look for answers on declining hummingbird population
LANGLEY Imagine sipping nearly 100 to 200 pounds of sugar water through a narrow straw every day. Now imagine flapping your arms more than 50 times per second and flying a distance of 300 to 500 miles.
This is the daily existence of the Rufous hummingbird, a red-throated bird that migrates from northern Mexico generally up the West Coast, into British Columbia and the southern areas of Alaska.
But the numbers of Rufous hummingbirds are declining, which has caused the National Audubon Society to place them on a list of common birds in decline. Biologists are now scrambling to find out why the high-octane birds are disappearing.
BASIC FACTS ABOUT HUMMINGBIRDS
Hummingbirds are small, colorful birds with iridescent feathers. Their name comes from the fact that they flap their wings so fast (about 80 times per second) that they make a humming noise. Hummingbirds can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and even upside down. They are also able to hover by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern. They have a specialized long and tapered bill that is used to obtain nectar from the center of long, tubular flowers. The hummingbird’s feet are used for perching only, and are not used for hopping or walking.
© Matthew B. Propert
Hummingbirds primarily eat flower nectar, tree sap, insects and pollen.
The hummingbird’s fast breathing rate, fast heartbeat and high body temperature require that they eat often. They also require an enormous amount of food each day. Hummingbirds have a long tongue which they use to lick their food at a rate of up to 13 licks per second.
It is difficult to estimate population numbers since there are many different species spanning a large geographic area.
Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, from southeastern Alaska to southern Chile, although most live in the tropics. There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, 12 of which summer in North America and winter in tropical areas.
Like other birds, hummingbirds communicate via visual displays. Hummingbirds are very territorial and have been observed chasing each other and even larger birds such as hawks away from their territories.
Gestation: 13-22 days.
Clutch size: Between 1-3 eggs.
The young start to fly in 18 to 30 days.
Historically hummingbirds were killed for their feathers, today they face different but equally devastating threats.
Habitat loss and destruction are the hummingbird’s main threats. As hummingbirds are often specially adapted to each unique habitat, each species of hummingbird currently listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN red list are all threatened due to habitat destruction and loss.
The earth’s changing temperatures due to climate change are affecting hummingbird migratory patterns, causing different species to be spotted in locations well outside their normal range, where it may be harder for them to find food.
Reasons For Hope
Hummingbirds in the U.S. and around the world have the benefit of being garden and backyard favorites. Many people put out hummingbird feeders or grow flowers that attract hummingbirds in the warmer months that allow these birds to refuel during their long migratory journeys. What’s in sight is often in mind, and many fans of hummingbirds are doing what they can to keep every backyard, park and garden a friendly place for these beautiful birds.
Read more at: http://www.defenders.org/hummingbirds/basic-facts