Imagine a world without hummingbirds

HummingbirdsIt’s hard to imagine a world without hummingbirds, but according to Ruth Padel of the zoological Society of London, a few of the more than 300 species of the world’s tough but fragile little wonder birds are already extinct and many are endangered.

The usual culprits are to blame–encroachment on and destruction of habitats, along with the accompanying chemical toxins and especially the increasing use of pesticides.

In our part of Arizona we are able to enjoy the presence of hummingbirds during the summer before they flit off to Mexico, and many people grow lavender and other plants that attract both hummers and bees. A hummingbird can sip from as many as 1,500 flowers a day, including a number of weed, vegetable and herb plants flowering and going to seed. I’ve recently noticed both bees and hummingbirds enjoying our cilantro flowers.

The irridescent colors and activities of many hummingbirds fascinated such early scientific explorers as Charles Darwin. And no wonder. Their wings beat 80 times a second and their whizzing tongues are almost transparent. They are loners that can fly independently over 500 miles of ocean, and extremely territorial. Anyone who has watched them has seen ther ferocious skirmishes, sometimes resulting in body-slams. Thirty percent of their body weight is flight muscle and four percent is brain, the largest proportion of any bird.

Hummingbirds  live wild only in the Americas and the Caribbean. Most dwell in the tropical and sub-tropical forests of Central and South America, with Columbia boasting the largest population– 160 species. The U.S. has only 20 species, but that’s plenty to provide endless flashing color, amusement and interest.

A number of organizations around the world, such as London’s historical zoological society, have establishedd conservation sanctuaries in zoos to preserve hummingbirds and many other threatened species. You can see them in action at Regent Park.

We in the Southwest U.S. are fortunate enough to be visited annually by wild hummingbirds. I’d like to keep them. Wouldn’t you?