HMN investigates what hummingbirds need to survive, successfully reproduce, and maintain thriving populations through science-based monitoring, education, research, and restoration.
Monitoring efforts collect information needed to identify changes and trends in populations and to evaluate effectiveness of conservation actions on ecosystems. The population-level questions revolve around species, usually endangered species, and ask what’s happening to their populations. The ecosystems questions revolve around interactions among and services provided by populations of species in space and time and ask whether these services and interactions are sufficient to sustain functioning biological systems. These questions define two classes of monitoring.
Effectiveness Monitoring evaluates management actions on restoring populations and enhancing habitats. Specifically, monitoring information is needed that will enable land managers to:
Design, develop, and implement projects that restore or enhance habitats and minimize negative impacts;
Assess responses to habitat restoration projects or other management activities on conservation targets;
Identify ecosystem-scale goals and objectives for use in land management planning.
Methodologies will vary based upon the conservation targets, research questions, proposed actions, and expected responses. Ultimately, standardized protocols are required to determine the impacts of restoration efforts across landscapes and to evaluate the effectiveness of management actions.
Trend Monitoring investigates the health and sustainability of animal populations and the distribution / phenology of their required resources. It is important to understand:
trends in distribution, abundance, and movement patterns;
population dynamics, such as survivorship, productivity, and other vital demographic factors;
effects of broad-scale changes on availability of required resources;
emerging threats or problems.
Monitoring needs of hummingbird populations are similar to other animal populations, but techniques used to monitor them must consider their specialized ecology and physiology. Because of their small size (many species weigh less than 3 grams or 0.1 ounce), hummingbirds operate at the limits of endothermic physiology, hence respond rapidly to changing conditions that affect their livelihood.
HMN’s Coordinated Trend Monitoring Program
The 2019 monitoring season has begun! Read our session summary reports below to get all the latest news from our sites.
HMN has been successful at developing a tri-national science-based coordinated monitoring program with partners from federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities, and individuals who work as volunteers or citizen scientists. It is a systematic banding program with constant effort, robust design protocol that is stratified by geographic factors and vegetation type. It uses field techniques that are defined based upon hummingbird ecology and physiology.
HMN’s program began in 2002 with sites in California and Arizona and has expanded to include from 25 and 30 active sites each year in western Canada, USA, and Mexico. Its goals are to maintain long-term monitoring sites that represent a region’s hummingbird diversity; collect detailed demographic information on hummingbird populations, gather information on the timing of their migration and movement patterns, and estimate hummingbird abundance so trends in their populations can be detected. Monitoring sites are chosen based upon geographic factors such as elevation, longitude, latitude, and vegetation types.
Community goals for this program include training and engaging Citizen Scientists, partnering with land managers, and increasing public awareness and outreach about hummingbird conservation needs.
HMN's monitoring program generates knowledge about hummingbird diversity, abundance, productivity, and survivorship in a variety of habitats.
Help Support Our Monitoring Program Today!
HMN MONITORING DATES (Thursday –Wednesday)
March 7 – 13
March 5 – 11
March 21 – 27
March 19 – 25
April 4 – 10
April 2 – 8
April 18 – 24
April 16 – 22
May 2 – 8
April 30 – May 6
May 16 – 22
May 14 – 20
May 30 – June 5
May 28 – June 3
June 13 – 19
June 11 – 17
June 27 – July 3
June 25 – July 1
July 11 – 17
July 9 – 15
July 25 – 31
July 23 – 29
August 8 – 14
August 6 – 12
August 22 – 28
August 20 – 26
September 5 – 11
September 3 – 9
September 19 – 25
September 17 – 23
October 3 – 9
October 1 – 7
October 17 – 23
October 15 – 21
It’s amazing what we don’t know about hummingbirds. Did you know that nests are undescribed in about 31% of the most threatened and endangered hummingbird species? Or 67% of these species have never been seen in human-made habitats such as gardens, parks, agricultural fields, and at feeders?
Educating students of all ages about hummingbirds and their conservation needs and providing opportunities to engage individuals in scientific investigations and other hummingbird-inspired knowledge, express the goals of HMN. Learning about the natural world increases understanding about the “give and take” reciprocity of the living world, such as the pollination interaction between hummingbirds and the flowers that they visit?
HMN engages students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) activities, particularly with its coordinated trend monitoring program. HMN monitoring stations extend opportunities to a wide array of people to learn about hummingbirds in hands-on experiences. Everyone from retired scientists to the lay hummingbird lover has the opportunity to learn.
HMN’s coordinated trend monitoring program, a systematic banding program with 25-30 sites in western USA, British Columbia, and Mexico, fosters cross-generational education relationships. We are building partnerships with a range of educational institutions, from high school, to community colleges, universities, and post-graduate programs. The following high school program signifies a successful partnership, as a foundation for future relationships.
PASEO, Patagonia After School Employment Opportunity
In spring 2014, HMN, in partnership with Patagonia Union High School began PASEO (Patagonia After School Employment Opportunity), a program that employs students to help HMN with data management needs. Its objectives are to employ and engage high school students in STEM activities that help HMN with its field and science data management needs. Students working with PASEO have proofed and entered data from work and now, they are learning how to extract hummingbird sounds from audio recordings. In the next years, we would like to expand opportunities so they have “hands on” experience with our monitoring program. We have received funding from Patagonia Regional Community Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, Mrs. Jennevieve Wethington, HMN donors, and a new partner, Wildlife Acoustics (www.wildlifeacoustics.com). Wildlife Acoustics awarded HMN a grant of their new audio recording analyses software, Kaleidoscope. In 2017, students are helping to extract hummingbird sounds from recordings taken at flower patches during hummingbird migration in southeastern Arizona. We are trying to figure out how timing of migration is influenced by weather events and abundance of flowers.
Our educational materials and outreach activities include:
presentation of scientific papers
programs for local organizations
manuscripts for publication in scientific journals
information to magazines and newspapers
participation in video productions about hummingbirds
training workshops for biologists, citizen scientists, volunteers, internships for Latin American students
brochures and newsletters
Identifying risks to, and future viability of, hummingbird populations requires accurate information on their status, present and past. Scientific inquiry that is well designed, carefully conducted, peer-reviewed, and publicly accessible is the key for providing answers. Research findings will help hummingbirds survive, reproduce, and thrive. Below are three key research projects for HMN.
Combining remote-sensing and biological data to predict the consequences of climate change on hummingbird diversity
KEY PARTNERS:Dr. Catherine Graham, Stony Brook University, Dr. Scott Goetz and Dr Pieter Beck, Woods Hole Research Center, Dr. Timothy Essington, University of Washington, Dr. Don Powers, George Fox University, and Dr. Susan Wethington, HMN.
KEY FUNDER: NASA NNX11AO28G
SUMMARY: We will better predict how environmental change will influence population persistence of hummingbirds, using classical statistical niche models, physiologically informed ecological niche models, Bayesian population models and plant-animal network models to evaluate the relationship between environmental data and biological data. We propose to combine time series data for hummingbirds with climate and remote sensing data to evaluate what changes have occurred in hummingbird populations. Some preliminary results suggest that increasing temperatures will adversely affect hummingbirds and that they respond quickly to changing conditions.
PRIMARY INVESTIGATORS:Dr. Harold Greeney, Yanayacu Biological Station
KEY PARTNERS: American Museum of Natural History Southwest Research Station, Coronado National Forest
KEY FUNDER: USFWS grant 201815J857, the Population Biology Foundation, and the American Museum of Natural History Southwest Research Station, HMN.
SUMMARY: During the first year in 2007, we discovered that Black-chinned Hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) were choosing to cluster their nests around Accipiter hawk nesting sites and, by doing so, realizing increased nesting success. In subsequent years we began to study the intricacies of this interaction, discovering that Accipiter nest placement creates a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade by altering the foraging behavior of predatory Mexican Jays and creating a three-dimensional enemy-free nesting habitat for hummingbirds. Check out our latest publication in Science Advances(pdf)
Developing a comprehensive coordinated monitoring program for hummingbirds
PRIMARY INVESTIGATORS:Dra Maria del Coro Arizmendi & Claudia Rodriguez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; Dr. Susan Wethington, HMN
KEY FUNDER: USFWS Neotropical Migratory Grant 5087; USFWS Sonoran Joint Venture Grant F12AP00511; Biophilia Foundation; Cuenca Los Ojos; USFS International Programs, HMN
SUMMARY: This project includes both restoration activities and the development of field techniques that can help assess hummingbird responses to environmental conditions. Working in Mexico and Arizona, we developed techniques and protocols that include hummingbird specific point count, nest searches, floral censuses, standing crop measurements, insect assays, mist-netting and trapping studies. From UNAM, five Masters Student Theses and two PhD student dissertations benefited from this work as well as 17 students and young professionals from Latin America who have participated and worked in HMN’s Field Study Internship Program.
HUMMINGBIRD FIELD STUDY INSTITUTE / INTERNSHIPS
The establishment of the Hummingbird Field Study Institute/Internship program serves to expand HMN’s research capacity while encouraging cross-cultural relationships. A primary goal is to identify conservation needs of hummingbird populations through scientifically informed assessment services and research. This program complements the monitoring data by supporting active research projects that also help fill gaps in our knowledge. Relationships built through our Latin American Internship program and the field data collected by interns are playing key roles in advancing understanding of hummingbird behavior.
Activities of the Institute will include the following:
Scientifically assess hummingbird habitats and conservation needs;
Be the center of competency for Hummingbird Field Studies;
Bring together hummingbird scientists and students to ensure that science and field activities continue to grow and remain vital for hummingbirds;
Train students and professionals in hummingbird field techniques;
Sponsor workshops in field techniques;
Continue the internship program to foster cross-cultural relationships and train students and professionals, whose conservation efforts would benefit from knowing field techniques specific to hummingbirds.
HUMMINGBIRD FIELD STUDY INTERNSHIPS
The Latin American Student Internship program began in 2009 because of a suggestion by Dr. Jorge Schondube (UNAM), who thought Mexican students would benefit if they could study temperate hummingbirds in Arizona. Since then, its scope of students has expanded from Mexico to across the Americas from two to six interns per year with a total of 17 students benefiting from the program so far. Of the 17 interns, 6 have or will soon complete advanced degrees, 4 will enter graduate school, 2 are completing their undergraduate degrees, 3 are working in conservation related jobs, and one is a high school biology teacher.
With the beginning of the institute and the success of the internship program, HMN is building the capacity to provide studies that assess hummingbird habitats, evaluate the effectiveness of restoration actions, and provide employment and internships for the communities addressing hummingbird conservation needs. It provides a bridge for strong cross-cultural connections.
We thank the USFS International Programs. Their visa and medical insurance support makes this program possible.
The choices of restoration activities depend upon characteristics of place, elements in time, and capacities of nearby communities. HMN’s restoration efforts begin with projects defined to benefit both hummingbird and human communities, thus generating both conservation and economic opportunities that restore / enhance hummingbird habitats and employ local community members.
Restoration of hummingbird habitats at HMN’s headquarters along Harshaw Creek near Patagonia, Arizona began, after the January 1993 flood, with hydrologic restoration efforts including riparian tree pole plants, straw bale and wire cage gabions, and flower seed dispersal. In recent years, HMN, Borderlands Restoration L3C, and Sky Island Alliance have worked together to restore hummingbird habitats along Harshaw Creek as well as 3 other locations in the borderlands region. US Fish and Wildlife Service’s grants (Neotropical Migratory Grant 5087; Sonoran Joint Venture Grant F12AP00511, and Partners F13AC00870) supported this work in addition to the Biophilia Foundation, Cuenca Los Ojos, and HMN. In the last 3 years, over 2600 pollinator plants, of which 2150 are hummingbird visited plants, were planted and rocks or wooden posts were installed to slow water flow. The August 2015 flood gave the hydrologic restoration a serious test, showing more work is needed but also, that these initial trials reduced damage to riparian habitats along Harshaw Creek.
Given the extensive habitat changes from human activities, sustaining or enhancing nectar landscapes for hummingbirds and other pollinators requires active and massive restoration efforts. Developing native plant nurseries that supply restoration efforts and a variety of gardens with needed flowering pollinator plants directly benefits both hummingbird and human communities and indirectly increases biodiversity. In partnership with Biologia Integral en Impacto Ambiental (BiiA), the fourth largest biological restoration firm in Mexico, HMN is exploring ways to enhance restoration efforts to include hummingbird pollinator plants and seeds that will help with soil retention and reforestation at the first level.
For individuals who want to help by planting gardens, Marcy Scott, co-owner of Robledo Vista Nursery near Las Cruces, New Mexico and author of Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest teaches us how to plant a hummingbird garden.
PLANT A HUMMINGBIRD GARDEN
By Marcy Scott
Whether you’re designing a small nectar patch for visiting hummingbirds or planning a more elaborate hummingbird-friendly habitat, the following tips should help get you started. Note that while examples given may feature southwestern hummingbirds and their plants (and for in-depth info on both see Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest, by Marcy Scott, Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2015), the concepts apply broadly to hummingbird habitats throughout the Americas.
First try to determine what times of year hummingbirds may be present in your area and whether they are mostly migrants passing through and/or breeding or wintering birds that will remain longer.This will give you an idea of the most valuable times to provide a blooming nectar patch. Some locations may only see hummingbirds for a few months and others will host birds year round.
Also try to learn where your yard and neighborhood fit into the general scheme of things. Is it most like a desert wash, river valley, mountain conifer forest, rocky canyon, coastal bluff, mixed hardwood forest, tropical deciduous forest? The better you understand your particular spot on the hummingbird map, the smarter plant choices you will likely make—even if you’re just adding a few container plants. Quite dissimilar conditions can exist in close geographic proximity, such as a cool upper elevation forest and a desert flat, and in such cases choosing plants from similar habitats makes more sense than trying to grow a mountain wildflower in the desert just because it’s native nearby.
CREATE A NECTAR PATCH
Once you’ve learned what times of year to expect hummingbirds in your area and taken note of what other blooming hummingbird plants may exist in your neighborhood, choose a couple of plant species to start with that bloom during your target time and are native to the location or a comparable habitat. Southwesterners can consult the book referenced above for detailed info on native plants of that region, but in general flowers that are most valuable to hummingbirds tend to be red in color, tubular in shape, and they often dangle so that a prospective pollinator must hover in order to access the nectar within.
In western North America nearly everyone can count one or more native penstemons (Penstemon) in their area that are hummingbird-pollinated (22 of these are featured in Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest), and these make good starter plants for most Westerners. Penstemons usually do best planted in the ground, and the sturdiest are often locally available at nurseries or native plant sales (check botanical gardens for event schedules). Start with 3-5 plants of one species that will eventually self-seed and form a little colony over time, and be sure to locate them in an area that you can watch and enjoy frequently. New plants will need watering on a regular basis until they are established (and as needed thereafter), and where wildlife browsing is a problem they may need to be protected with chicken wire caging.
Various red-flowering salvias (Salvia), a number of them native to Mexico, can also be easy to grow in appropriate climates, are virtual hummingbird magnets, and typically make excellent container plants. Some other genera with multiple hummingbird-pollinated plants that are sometimes available in the nursery trade are Agastache, Anisacanthus, Aquilegia, Calliandra, Castilleja, Cuphea, Diplacus, Erythrina, Fouquieria, Fuchsia, Hesperaloe, Ipomopsis, Justicia, Keckiella, Lobelia, Lonicera, Malvaviscus, Mimulus, Monarda, Ribes, Russelia, and Silene. You might want to make a note of any of these that are native in your area and keep an eye out for them at native plant sales. Buying plants from a reputable online or mail-order catalog is certainly an option too. After you’ve gained experience with a few sturdy plants, you’ll likely be psyched to keep planting, and can gradually build your nectar patch by adding plants that bloom at different times of year.
To survey the nectar patch and surrounding environs, hummingbirds need several tall perches that afford good vantage points. Some southwestern plants that are commonly used as sentinel posts include ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and the tall flower stalks of agaves (Agave), sotols (Dasylirion), and yuccas (Yucca). Spent flower stalks of any of these plants can be scavenged and “planted” in the yard for instant habitat. Bare twigs atop trees and large shrubs can and often do serve the same function, which is something to keep in mind when pruning.
COVER FOR ROOSTING AND NESTING
Between feeding forays female hummingbirds typically prefer to roost in dense cover, and usually choose such places for their tiny nests. And while male hummingbirds may spend a great deal of time in the open, defending territories and wooing females with their display flights, they too appreciate a spot in the shade to rest occasionally and sheltered spots for roosting at night. A great many native trees and large shrubs can fit the bill, but especially useful are evergreens (broadleaf or coniferous) that provide cover year round and plants that are horizontally branching, as most hummingbirds have very short legs and prefer level perches to steeply-angled ones. The more varied the options in your yard and neighborhood, the more hummingbirds you are likely to entice to stick around.
…to attract hummingbirds! Dripping water especially will draw in birds to zip in and out of the moving water, and in desert regions is a particularly welcome amenity. Traditional pedestal birdbaths are usually much too deep for the tiny birds, so either add a flat rock or two to the basin to make part of it shallower or fashion a small in-ground concrete pool with gradually sloping sides and shallow edges. Be sure to locate the birdbath out in the open so predators are less able to sneak up and with some dense and/or thorny protective cover nearby so that the birds will be safe while preening their feathers.
This section is as important as any! It does little good to go to the expense and effort to provide a haven for hummingbirds if our own carelessness or ignorance endangers their health and well-being. Scrubbing feeders out with hot water before refilling and changing nectar solution every few days, especially in hot or humid weather, will greatly reduce the chances of bacterial infection; birdbaths too should be cleaned regularly. Avoiding or limiting the use of insecticides in the garden is another important caveat. Beyond the potentially harmful effects of pesticide traces being ingested, hummingbirds consume enormous amounts of small insects in addition to flower nectar, and many that we consider garden pests, such as aphids, may constitute the bulk of the diet of most hummingbird nestlings. A relaxed attitude toward spider webs, often plundered for both nest materials and trapped insects, is a good idea too.
Perhaps the most consequential human-related threat to your hummingbird sanctuary is that posed by free-roaming domestic cats. Because of their family structure, with females typically the sole providers for rearing their young, hummingbirds are particularly vulnerable to cat predation; if a breeding female is killed her dependent nestlings will most likely die of starvation or exposure, effectively taking out three birds at once. Migrating hummingbirds that may be unfamiliar with humans let alone their pets are also at considerable risk. Keep your own cat indoors (where it will live much longer), and lend your support to TENVAC (Trap-Evaluate-Neuter-Vaccinate-Adopt-Contain) and other humane feral cat enclosure programs that seek to protect wildlife.
SPREAD THE WORD
Once you’ve gotten your hummingbird haven up and running, whether it’s an intimate grouping of container plants on your patio or a full-fledged hummingbird habitat, invite family, friends, and neighbors to enjoy the spectacle. The more of us that can be inspired to create oases for these winged jewels that so thoroughly fascinate us, the brighter their prospects for the future.
For next steps, HMN and partners will focus on 2 integrative projects:
For HMN’s Monitoring and Education programs, this priority cross-generational project will formally provide opportunities for students of all ages to participate in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities associated with HMN’s coordinated monitoring program. Outdoor science experiences can catalyze STEM and other learning. Yet, the lack of these opportunities is a growing concern of educators across our nation. HMN can help fill this gap in our youth’s education as well as foster other hummingbird-inspired learning. With funding, a monitoring/education coordinator will be hired to lead this project and the associated monitoring and educations programs.
For the priority cross-cultural Research and Restoration project, HMN and partners would like to predict when and where gaps in the nectar landscapes will occur and then work with communities across the hemisphere to fill them with flowers and other resources needed for hummingbird conservation. Relationships built through the Latin American Internship program is making this possible. With funding for a postdoctoral fellowship, Claudia Rodriguez, a Colombian who will complete her PhD from UNAM in December will lead the research as the director of the Hummingbird Field Study Institute. With additional funding, Rocio Meneses, an HMN Intern from Puebla, Mexico and biologist working with Biologia Integral en Impacto Ambiental (BiiA), will lead restoration efforts that increase the capacity of BiiA to develop opportunities across Mexico to restore hummingbird habitats.
These projects will increase the impact of HMN’s conservation actions for hummingbirds and will engage human communities to help with and benefit from these actions.