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Hooray For Hummingbirds: Celebrating National Hummingbird Day

There is no better time than now to protect these beautiful little birds.

09/08/2017 14:36 EDT | Updated 09/08/2017 14:37 EDT
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Photo by Steve Byland)

You hear a buzz and see a streak of green, red or purple, and then you realize that a hummingbird just flew by! Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures that have captured our attention for as long as humans have co-existed with them. They are admired for their flashy iridescent feathers, their ability to hover in one place and for their long bills and tongues.

Hummingbirds are only found in the Americas. In Canada, the species distribution of hummingbirds is uneven, with a greater density of species occurring in British Columbia and western Alberta. In British Columbia, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has reported four species of hummingbirds on our properties: Rufous hummingbird, Anna's hummingbird, calliope hummingbird and black-chinned hummingbird. East of the Rockies and south of the territories, the sole hummingbird flitting around is the ruby-throated hummingbird. This species has been spotted on NCC properties in every province from Alberta eastward, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Anna's hummingbird (Photo by Stuart Clarke)

The first Saturday in September is National Hummingbird Day. There is no better time than now to protect these beautiful little birds.

Documenting hummingbirds for science

When NCC biologists go out into the field, they do their best to keep track of the fauna and flora they encounter, but depending on the influx of species and how fast they move in and out of sight, this can be a tall order. To paint a complete picture of hummingbird populations and their distribution, conservation organizations can use data collected by citizen scientists. Next time you are visiting an NCC property, consider logging your hummingbird (and other bird) observations on eBird or your observations of hummingbird-friendly plants (listed below) on iNaturalist.

Late summer/early fall is a great time to see hummingbirds. Hummingbird chicks, by now, have left the nest, leading to an influx in the number of individuals flying around. Many species are busy preparing for migration, including the Rufous hummingbird, which flies nearly 6,400 kilometres to its wintering grounds in Mexico!

Rufous hummingbird (Photo by Stuart Clarke)

Do your part for hummingbirds

Are you interested in supporting hummingbirds? You don't have to be a biologist with an organization like NCC to have a role in hummingbird conservation! One of the best things we can do for hummingbird populations is plant native plants in our yards and gardens.

Hummingbirds are nectarivores — animals whose diet largely consists of sugary nectar from flowering plants. They use their long bills and probing tongues to glean their sugary meals from flowers. Fill your gardens with hummingbird favourites, and there is a good chance one of these little birds will come for a visit.

Some examples of nectar-producing native plants are:

  • Wild bergamot
  • Spotted jewelweed
  • Cardinal flower
  • Meadow blazing star
  • Common, swamp and butterfly milkweed
  • Wild columbine (eastern Canada), red columbine (western Canada)

Columbine (Photo by the Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Some hummingbirds also eat insects. Hummingbirds get fat and protein from gnats, mosquitos and midges they pluck from the air and aphids they snag from plants. Spiders are also an important friend of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds will harvest the silk from spider webs and use the sticky material to hold their nests together. To provide hummingbirds with the insects and spiders they rely on, we need to create good insect habitat. A valuable resource for learning about how native plants support insect and arthropod diversity is Bringing Nature Home, by Doug Tallamy.

To learn more about attracting hummingbirds to your home, check out the Audubon Society's resources on creating hummingbird-friendly yards.

This post was written by Claire Elliott and was originally published on the Nature Conservancy of Canada's blog,Land Lines.

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