Monitoring and Research

Hummingbird Monitoring & Research

We have been actively involved in monitoring local hummingbird populations since 1997. From our start on Southern Vancouver lsland, monitoring efforts have expanded to include sites in south and central BC, as well as southern Alberta. Most work is in BC, as this is the province where the bulk of our Rufous, Calliope and Black-chinned Hummingbirds breed. Over the years, we have learned much about their timing, movements, habitat choice, site fidelity, breeding habits and longevity. In the map of BC, you can see that the locations chosen for monitoring represent major north-south migration routes. 

In recent years, our research efforts have expanded to include questions around "What habitat resources are used" and "How habitat influences distribution and access to resources". We have used waste analysis (shared freely by the birds) to achieve some significant ‘firsts’. Our non-invasive analysis of nestling diet was the first time DNA in hummingbird faecal material was used to see what female hummingbirds were providing to their chicks. Our collaboration with Environment Canada was the first time that the urine from cloacal fluid (hummingbird urine and faeces come together and are called cloacal fluid) had been used to show environmental exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides and to butenolides. Click here to see a short video explaining our early pesticide exposure work.

To follow our latest research efforts, please check our publications page.

Wetlands & Agricultural Pesticides

Did you know that many bedding plants are treated with harmful pesticides that not only affect insects but also birds? We often hear about their effect on bee populations, but they can also affect any animal that depends on insects for food. If we think about our gorgeous local hummingbirds, they not only drink nectar from flowers, but also eat tiny soft-bodied insects for protein, fat, and salts. These are necessary for growth, and energy and also dictate the quality of the feathers that the birds grow. 

Our recent studies in agricultural areas have shown these pesticides to be present at high levels in hummingbird urine presumably coming from contaminated plant nectar or sap, and insects that have become contaminated by feeding on these resources.  The most common and problematic group of these pesticides is called neonicotinoids. The following article explains how these pesticides work. 

Since many of the same pesticides are used in bedding plants, you might consider starting your flowers from seed purchased from a bonafide organic seed company or obtain pesticide-free, organic bedding plants from a nursery. It’s healthier for you, your garden, and the birds, bees, and butterflies!

Wetlands should be a rich feeding ground for many birds and hummingbirds in particular, because they provide an abundance of insects – a vital source of protein and fat. These resources are key for fitness in migration and raising chicks. 

Unfortunately, wetlands are also areas that we often use for agriculture and so they become modified, drained and treated with pesticides. These pesticides get into and kill the insect prey that feed directly on the treated plants. They also contaminate the surrounding soil and aquatic systems, suppressing insect production. This means that birds feeding on insect prey are likely to consume these pesticides via their food and they may also suffer from supressed food resources.

To understand how these changes relate to hummingbirds, we have been investigating agricultural pesticide exposure in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Much of our work has focussed on the Fraser Valley, as this once rich wetland is now highly modified by humans. Agriculture and development have restricted water flow and true wetland is scarce. 

Within the Fraser Valley, we have found that breeding females are very numerous in areas associated with wetland and away from agriculture, but few and far between otherwise. We have found high levels of pesticide exposure in hummingbirds (and bees) near blueberry farms (a major crop in the valley), as well as contamination of soil, water and non-target plants away from the treated areas. (Watch this short video). We have also sampled pesticide exposure in hummingbirds from other regions around the province, to obtain a better picture of pesticide exposure in BC. 

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