Search of the Week: “what can I feed hummingbirds to get them protein”


Sugar water is a substitute for the nectars of hummingbird-pollinated flowers, which provide the birds with energy-rich sugars, water, some electrolyte salts, and little else. Almost everything else their bodies need, including protein, comes from eating insects, spiders, and other small arthropods. (Salvia sp. in my garden, copyright S. L. Williamson)

Hummingbirds do need extra protein in their diets during the nesting and molting seasons. Here are some tips for helping them meet their protein needs:

  • Don’t use broad-spectrum pesticides in your yard: Many common yard and garden pests, including aphids, whiteflies, and various annoying gnats and midges, are just the right size for hummingbirds to eat. Even if the birds don’t sicken and die from eating poisoned prey, spraying pesticides destroys an essential source of natural nutrition and makes your yard less attractive to them. Switch to targeted, low-risk remedies for specific pests, such as a hard spray of water under leaves for aphids and various forms of the natural pest pathogen “Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillars and mosquitoes. Also, beware of purchasing hummingbird flowers from mainstream garden centers. Many of these plants have been unnecessarily treated with the same neonicotinoid pesticides that have been implicated in the terrifying declines of honeybees, native pollinators, and native insect-eating birds.
  • Cultivate a compost pile: Fruit flies are attracted to decaying vegetable matter, including fruit rinds and scraps. Garden experts often advise against adding fruit to compost piles/bins in part to discourage fruit flies, but these tiny insects provide excellent hummingbird food while aiding the composting process.
  • Grow your own fruit flies: There are lots of recipes on the Web. When a culture matures, just set the container in your garden and open it so the flies can escape.

The one thing you absolutely, positively should never, ever do is add protein supplements to your feeder solution. It’s unnatural, the solution will spoil much faster, and the birds will not like the taste. (Captive hummingbirds drink protein-rich liquid diets, but only because they have no choice. They’d much prefer flower nectar or sugar water for energy and water and a variety of insects and spiders for protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc.)

More on what to put (and not put) in your hummingbird feeder:

Feeder Solution Evolution, Part I: The Basics
Search of the Week: “is molasses ok to feed hummingbirds”
Feeding Hummingbirds: The dangers of red dye
Beet juice in hummingbird feeders: NO!
Search of the Week: “hummingbirds won’t eat instant nectar”
Search Roundup: Feeding hummingbirds
Keeping hummingbird feeders clean



Search of the Week: “is sevin powder safe for hummingbirds”

Hummingbirds should be dusted with pollen, not pesticides.

Hummingbirds should be dusted with pollen, not pesticides.

NO! Sevin is an indiscriminate pesticide that’s considered moderately toxic to birds. Even if it doesn’t kill hummingbirds outright, it will kill their prey and deprive them of a vital food source. There are many safer and more targeted solutions available for controlling garden and household pests.

Mother Earth News: Organic Pest Control: What Works, What Doesn’t Natural & Organic Pest Control Solutions for the Garden

Grist: A guide to non-toxic pest control

Search of the Week: “what birds are protected in arizona”

Virtually all of them, and most by federal and state law.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted to protect America’s native birds, including the elegant Snowy Egret, from commercial exploitation.

Almost all birds native to the United States, whether migratory or not, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This includes songbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, roadrunners, birds of prey, waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, seabirds, etc.

State laws can be more restrictive than federal but not less, so the MBTA represents the minimum level of protection for the native birds it covers—and it’s one of the strongest wildlife laws in the world. It was enacted in response to the wholesale slaughter of egrets, herons, and other charismatic birds for the feather trade. (It also put an end to market hunting of native birds, but this came too late to help the Passenger Pigeon.)

The MBTA allows the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to issue permits for managed recreational hunting of most traditional prey species, lethal control of “nuisance” birds, and live capture and possession of raptors for falconry (in states where falconry is legal), but commercial exploitation is strictly prohibited. That means you can buy a state hunting license and federal and state “duck stamps” and legally shoot your limit of waterfowl, but you can’t sell them or any part of thereof (including mounted trophies). With some exceptions for migratory gamebirds (including captive-bred ornamental waterfowl and the aforementioned taxidermy), you also can’t keep protected birds in captivity (even for altruistic reasons) or have their feathers, bones, nests, or eggs in your possession without a scientific,  educational, or religious/cultural permit.

Native “upland/nonmigratory gamebirds” —quail, grouse, Wild Turkey, and (in Texas only) Plain Chachalaca—are under state jurisdiction. States often regulate hunting of introduced game species such as pheasants and partridges, but most nonnative species—House Sparrows, European Starlings, Rock (Domestic/Feral) Pigeons, Eurasian Collared-Doves, Indian (Blue) Peafowl, feral chickensferal parrots, escaped (but non-breeding) domestic* or pet birds, etc.—have little or no legal protection anywhere in the U.S. except whatever might be afforded by county or city ordinances (which may have priority over state ordinances).

Disclaimer: IANAL. This is just a brief summary of common situations where the MBTA applies. It’s up to you to read federal, state, and local laws and understand how they apply to your situation. If in doubt, consult the appropriate government agency for advice.

* Special regulations apply to Mallards and Muscovy Ducks, since they exist in the U.S. as both domesticated (captive and feral) and native wild birds.

Search of the Week: “care for feral cats”

Two simple steps:

  1. Trap them. Animal control agencies often have cat-sized traps to loan. Canned cat food and sardines make good baits where you’re not likely to catch a skunk or other wild animal; otherwise, try catnip.
  2. Take them to the nearest shelter that will rehome or permanently house them, or euthanize them if all else fails.

Alternatively, have them neutered and vaccinated and confine them to your own property in a predator- and escape-proof enclosure.

Do not leave them out on their own. Cats are domestic animals, and prolonging their homelessness to the detriment of your neighbors, other pets, and wildlife is almost as irresponsible as abandoning them in the first place.

Salting the earth, oiling the sea

For the last few months life has been an emotional roller coaster. The weather here in southeastern Arizona has been insane. Wildlife and people alike are still hurting from last summer’s drought, despite abundant winter rains that produced a good spring wildflower show and renewed the flow of creeks and rivers. A snowstorm struck the high desert and sky islands at the end of April, during what is usually the peak of spring migration. Seeing Red-faced Warblers and hummingbird nests in the snow was an unforgettable yet heart-wrenching experience.

On the personal front, Tom and I are celebrating the engagement of one of our most cherished friends, but three other friends recently lost battles with cancer (two in one week), and three more are fighting it. Many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues are still struggling with the effects of the economic downturn, and the picture got bleaker with Arizona’s budget crisis, radical cuts to funding for education, and a tourism boycott spurred by the passage of state legislation promoting racial profiling and banning ethnic studies.

A more distant landscape that we love and the communities that depend on it have been brutalized, perhaps beyond recovery. I’m not trying to make the Deepwater Horizon disaster about me, just saying that as a native Texan who spent many happy days on the Gulf Coast I can empathize with the maelstrom of emotions—grief, rage, helplessness, resignation—that residents of the region are feeling right now.

I have nothing but disgust for the cheerleaders for the oil industry who keep chanting “drill, baby, drill” and “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the face of this tragedy. Human lives have been lost. Millions of animals and plants, parts of a natural cornucopia of marine and estuarine ecosystems, are doomed. Traditional ways of life and the communities that depend on them have been devastated. That’s far too high a price to pay for the illusions of energy independence and economic security.

It occurred to me that the oil companies and other huge industries stand to win big from this disaster beyond a short-term spike in oil prices. With the poisoning of the Gulf’s ecosystems, thousands of residents who for generations have fed their families directly from the bounty of the coastal wetlands and the sea suddenly have no jobs, no money to buy food, few immediate alternatives, and little hope for the future. The tourism industry that struggled to recover after Hurricane Katrina was dealt another brutal blow, leaving even fewer options for small businesses and the people they employ. Families and communities will be strained to the breaking point and beyond, as they were in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez.

Into this economic vacuum and social chaos step BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, and their ilk. Having figuratively sown the earth with salt, destroying the fertility of the Gulf and the traditional livelihoods of its people, they’ve created an employers’ paradise now and for the foreseeable future. These companies and other corporate giants will have cornered the Gulf Coast job market. It’s already started, with BP offering to hire out-of-work fishing boats for cleanup work. What’s to stop them from controlling the entire economy of coastal communities, turning once proudly independent Americans into wage slaves?

Part of me wants to see all the U.S. assets of BP, its partners Anadarko and Mitsui & Co., and its contractors TransOcean and Halliburton seized and turned over to a trust to fund ongoing cleanup of the Gulf, restoration of wildlife habitat, rehabilitation of oiled wildlife, and support of communities whose traditional economic base has been obliterated.

Of course, it would be a huge mistake to tie the welfare of the Gulf and its people to continued exploitation of offshore oil. That’s what led us to this awful situation in the first place. Think about all the people who have had so little to say about the disaster because they depend on the petroleum industry for their income. This isn’t just employees of the oil companies and/or the contractors that serve them. It’s conservationists, too.

Members of the oil and gas industry are major contributors to conservation organizations such as TNC, Conservation International, and the Sierra Club. In return for the millions they donate to these organizations, the companies get photo ops and fake awards to dress up their ads and annual reports, putting on pretty “green” masks to distract their shareholders and the general public from the damage they’re doing to the environment.

Even the promising Teaming with Wildlife proposal was hijacked by oil interests. The original bill would have emulated the highly successful Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Act, establishing modest federal taxes on wildlife-related merchandise (bird feeders, field guides, camping equipment, cameras, etc.) to fund nongame conservation and watchable wildlife programs. TWW had widespread support from the public, manufacturers, and retailers, but because “tax” is a four-letter word in some circles oil-friendly members of Congress cut a deal to fund wildlife programs with revenues from offshore oil leases. Conservationists were forced to accept a Faustian bargain that is now coming back to haunt us.

Yes, the deep pockets of the oil companies are tempting, but the costs are just too high. Thankfully, there are a few politicians who understand this and are willing to take a stand against the formidable petroleum lobby. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had previously proposed expanding offshore drilling to put desperately needed revenues into state coffers, said, “You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'” (Why indeed. Perhaps President Obama would like to answer that question.) “If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather find a way to make up that $100 million.”

I like to think that Gov. Schwarzenegger would come to the same conclusion even if the coastlines of his state were inhabited by working people of modest means instead of rich celebrities. Here’s hoping that other governors and the President follow his example.

Crude Awakening: An infographic to help you understand the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the incredible costs that will affect us all

Integrity in Science: Non-profit Organizations Receiving Corporate Funding

More species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Recent changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act extend protection to over 120 new (non-split) species, some of which have waited decades for legal recognition. Most are vagrants such as Stygian Owl, Flame-colored Tanager, Blue Mockingbird, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Xantus’s Hummingbird, Bumblebee Hummingbird, and Green-breasted Mango that will finally enjoy the same protection under the MBTA as other naturally occurring species. (You hear that, Brookfield Zoo?)

One controversial addition to the list is Muscovy Duck, a neotropical native that has established populations in southern Texas. The problem is with feral and released domestic Muscovies, which are causing a variety of problems. Not surprisingly, duck fanciers are up in arms over a proposal to outlaw breeding of Muscovies except for meat, and I can sympathize. Though the proposal specifically exempts any live ducks in one’s possession prior to the date the rule goes into effect, it will eliminate breeding of highly domesticated strains of Muscovy for show or pet purposes. Apparently, many of those pets are being abandoned where they become nuisances to people,  reservoirs for disease, and competitors for resources with native species, but the bigger problem would seem to be breeding of semi-wild, flight-capable Muscovies to be released for canned hunts. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether duck fanciers can work out some reasonable exemptions.

CFR Parts 10 and 21: General Provisions; Migratory Birds Revised List and Permits; Final Rules

CFR 21.54: Muscovy Duck

The recycled birds of Jane Gillings

gillingsbskiAustralian artist Jane Gillings makes colorful, cartoonish, yet faithfully rendered birds from discarded plastic. Some samples are included with her artist profile for her exhibition at the NG Gallery (someone got a bit too creative with the page layout – you’ll have to scroll  way over to the right to see the photos).

Thanks to Susan Lomuto at Daily Art Muse.

Science is back, y’all!

From President-elect Obama’s weekly radio address:

From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us.

Amen to that.

Another dangerous Chinese import

Praying mantises (known to entomologists as “mantids”) have been frequent topics on forums and blogs this week. Hummingbird enthusiasts are often alarmed to find a mantis/mantid lurking in their flowers or perched brazenly on their feeders, and rightly so. Big mantises can overpower, kill, and eat small vertebrates such as hummingbirds (grisly photo documentation of a mantis eating a Ruby-throated Hummingbird here).

Normally I’d be tempted to shrug and say, “That’s nature,” but among the twenty-odd mantids in the United States the only widespread species that’s large enough to catch hummingbirds is one that doesn’t belong here: The Chinese Mantid, Tenodera aridifolia sinensis. At an adult length of at least four inches, close to twice the size of most common native species, this is one formidable predator. It’s probably the most widespread species in North America thanks to mail-order sales of egg cases (oothecae) to gardeners and insect enthusiasts.

I’m very fond of mantids, and I remember being deeply disappointed when I first learned that the biggest, most dramatic ones are aliens. A little Web research confirms that Chinese Mantids are the largest of their kind in North America, though estimates of maximum size vary from 85 to 150 mm (3.3-6 inches) [Wikipedia][Enature]. Having seen big females that were at least four inches long, I tend to trust the higher figure. I’m not sure how big one would have to be to catch and hold a hummingbird long enough to kill it, but somewhere we’ve got a slide showing a concerned Black-chinned Hummingbird hovering a discreet distance from a feeder occupied by a Chinese Mantid less than four inches long.

One of the less helpful pages I came across while researching the relative sizes of native and exotic mantids was an information sheet on praying mantids at the University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science Education Outreach (CISEO). Each of the site’s information sheets has a section on positive and negative impacts on the ecosystem of the critters in question—a great idea in theory. The mantid page mentions under positive impacts that they are indiscriminate predators but lists no known negative impacts on the ecosystem. This is certainly true for our smaller native species, but what about the humongous Chinese Mantid?

In the interests of accuracy and balanced reporting, I shot off a quick email to the webmaster suggesting that the page be revised to mention the Chinese Mantid and its predation on vertebrates. This was his reply:

Interesting that you consider a negative impact only for large species. What about all of the small insects that all species of mantids eat? All species consume a variety of things in order to survive. Plants included. The only species I know of that has a truly negative impact because of what it eats is us. So, if I had written the text I don’t think I would have included the negative impact. Unfortunately the concept of negative impact is almost entirely anthropocentric. I like hummingbirds too, and the fact that some species find them tasty is just a part of the natural world.

The CISEO webmaster is more than entitled to an entomocentric view of the world, but the insinuation that my view is anthropocentric, or even avicentric, is way off base. The issue is not so much size or phylum as how alien species effect natives and their ecosystems. I’d take an equally dim view of a fellow ornithologist championing House Sparrows, European Starlings, Eurasian Collared-Doves, or Ring-necked Pheasants in North America.

The predator-hater implication also misses the mark by miles. Growing up with hunters and ranchers on one side and Disney on the other, I found myself drawn to predators as fascinating underdogs. Hawks and snakes are still among my favorite animals, and I certainly don’t begrudge native predators the occasional meal of a hummingbird or any other species of wildlife, native or exotic.

My concern is not that mantids are eating hummingbirds but that the Chinese Mantid is sufficiently different from our native mantids for its predation to have an unnatural impact on native wildlife and ecosystems. Its far greater size allows it to kill much larger prey than its native counterparts, and the vertebrates it kills have far greater potential longevity and far lower reproduction rates than its invertebrate prey, magnifying the ecological consequences of such depredations. In this broader view of the issues it seems disingenuous and anti-educational for the information sheet to claim no known negative ecological impact and to fail to acknowledge that not all mantids in Arizona actually belong here.

The point that we tend to view the value of wildlife, exotic or otherwise, through an anthropocentric lens is well taken, and the reputation of mantids as beneficial insects, whether native or not, is a sterling example of how this lens can distort your thinking. It brings to mind a call to Ramsey Canyon Preserve from a man in Phoenix who apparently took the “tree-hugger”epithet a bit too literally. He wanted The Nature Conservancy’s help to stop his neighbor from cutting down some eucalyptus trees. I explained that TNC was about protecting native species and ecosystems, and that exotic suburban ornamental trees didn’t qualify. “But I thought you people saved trees!” he protested.

One of the biggest challenges for environmental educators is that most people’s opinions of other species depend on what’s in it for them. Mantids are promoted and sold as “friends” of gardeners and farmers. Shady eucalyptus trees comfort people who haven’t embraced desert life. Voracious aquatic predators are stocked in lakes and streams far and wide to thrill fishermen who enjoy a good fight. Ungulates with ornamental headgear that looks good on a wall are imported and bred on ranches for the shooting pleasure of trophy hunters. Problem is, many of the anthropocentric efforts to promote “desirable” species threaten the integrity of native ecosystems.

Environmental education can help create a better-informed and broader-minded constituency for conservation, but is this really the goal of CISEO? The webmaster’s e-mail address is at the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture, and the project is funded by grants from the National Institute of Health, so it’s tempting to see a thinly veiled agenda. The mission statement on the home page says:

Our objectives are to develop new integrated education materials that foster the use of live insects as teaching models and to offer teacher training in background information about arthropods and how to use them in the classroom.

Perusing other information pages turns up the positive contributions of mosquitoes to ecosystems as food for fish, birds, bats, and other arthropods, so it’s not all about direct economic and/or health impacts on humans.

One would also hope that the webmaster, a retired entomology professor, might be aware that exotic insects endanger native insects. One prominent victim is the Xerces Blue (Glaucopsyche [lygdamus] xerces), a butterfly whose slide to extinction coincided with the arrival in its California home of the Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile, which displaced the native ant species that cared for the tiny butterfly’s caterpillars. The Xerces Blue may not be significant in terms of agriculture or public health, but the Argentine Ant’s ecological and economic impact has been far reaching.

The Argentine Ant is just one example that refutes the CISEO webmaster’s notion that Homo sapiens is the only species whose feeding habits have negative ecological impacts. We’ve contributed to the decline of many species and extinction of a few in the course of feeding ourselves through hunting, fishing, and agriculture (whose impacts include habitat destruction, pesticides, predator control, water diversion, and diseases introduced by livestock), but alien wildlife can also eat native animals and plants out of existence. Just ask Arizona’s own Santa Cruz (Monkey Spring) Pupfish, Cyprinodon arcuatus…oh, wait, you can’t—they’ve been extinct for decades, gobbled up by exotic Largemouth Bass. Looking for a hummingbird example? How about the critically endangered Juan Fernández Firecrown, found only on the remote islands off the coast of Chile from which it gets its name? One subspecies is already extinct, and the few hundred remaining individuals are threatened by the feeding habits of non-native rats, cats, coatis, and rabbits as well as loss of native vegetation to alien plants and logging (which ironically seems to have benefited its less specialized cousin and competitor, the Green-backed Firecrown).

These are problems of our own making. We may not be able to bring back what we’ve lost, but the very least we can do is have the intellectual honesty to take responsibility in hopes that some of the damage can be reversed and that future ecological meddling can be averted. It’s never too early to encourage responsible stewardship of biological diversity, and I hope CISEO will consider incorporating this subject into its lesson plans.