There’s been a change in the status of locally beloved Rufous Hummingbirds. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reflects the conservation status of all known species in the world based on extinction risk, and classifications include (from most concerning to least concerning): Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Conservation Dependent, and Least Concern. BirdLife International is responsible for tracking and reporting the status of the world’s bird species, and the organization provides updates to the IUCN Red List every year. This year, one of the species near and dear to birders in northern Arizona had an important status change—the Rufous Hummingbird has been moved from a species of Least Concern (healthy, stable wild population, not at risk of extinction) to Near Threatened (close to being at risk of extinction in the near future).
What does this mean? These bold and assertive rusty-colored little hummingbirds—a familiar sight in Northern Arizona in the summer—could become a much rarer sight in the future if the factors hurting their population aren’t addressed. Based on the research by BirdLife International, there are two possible culprits in the declining populations of Rufous Hummingbirds:
- Rufous Hummingbirds rely on insects for a large part of their diet during the breeding season, and their diminutive size makes them particular sensitive to pesticides and declining insect populations.
- The main culprit in declining Rufous Hummingbird populations is climate change. According to BirdLife International, “flowers are already blooming as many as two weeks earlier in some locations, meaning many hummingbirds arrive from migration too late to take advantage of this vital food source.”
What can we do? As far as the big picture is concerned, we can advocate for national and global action to address climate change. In the meantime, on a smaller scale, providing hummingbird feeders or planting flowers in your yard that bloom later in the season can help to fill this gap between migration patterns and blooming flowers; this will help your local birds who may be having a hard time finding food, though this is not a permanent or wide-ranging solution. If you have insect problems, try alternatives to toxic pesticides (such as ladybugs or non-toxic insect deterrents) to keep the little pests out of your yard or garden. What is clear is that we need to take measures to protect our little feathered friends, or risk losing a familiar face.
-Written by Amy Zimmermann, NAAS Conservation Chair