Talking hummingbirds on Arizona Illustrated

I recently appeared on the public television news magazine Arizona Illustrated to talk about hummingbirds and the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory‘s field studies on them. Watch the interview here:

Arizona Illustrated: Hummingbirds Among Us

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Mountain-Gem Arts Cyber-Monday update

No Gila Monsters were harmed in the making of this pendant.

I’ve been busy this fall, but more with art than birds.

Mountain-Gem Arts now has a permanent URL—www.mountain-gem-arts.com—and new stuff! I’m most excited about the new Gila Monster series (right), inspired by a request from a friend in New Mexico, but there are new additions to the Heart of the Woods and Rainbow Ripples lines plus new nature-theme earrings: Ornithophily, Kelp Forest, Autumn Leaves, Blue Lagoon. You can also browse a gallery of recent work.

I’ll be exhibiting at the Cascabel Community Fair next weekend, so at least some of the items available now on the Web site will have new homes by Sunday. If you see something you love, better grab it before someone else does.

There’s be more to come soon. If you’re looking for a gift and can’t decide, e-mail me about a gift certificate.

Future additions will include reproductions of some of my 2-D art and links where you can purchase my e-books (in progress).

Thanks for supporting small businesses and independent creators!

I get mail

I get a lot of mail this time of year asking for help with hummingbird identification. Those that are accompanied by photos are usually pretty easy to deal with, but ones like this give me a bad, bad feeling:

I live in Michigan. My daughter had a friend that lived along the Maple river. They saw yellow, red and green hummingbirds. These were brightly colored. She discribed the yellow one as looking like a goldfinch. They all appeared to be the same type of birds only different bright colors.

My sister just this week saw one that was a solid bright sky blue.

I’ve never heard of hummingbirds that have this coloring.

That’s because there aren’t any. A red and green hummingbird in Michigan is almost certainly a male Ruby-throated, but there are no yellow or solid sky blue hummingbirds among the world’s 340-odd species. None. Anywhere. However, those bright colors are found in many tiny songbirds, including warblers, buntings, and yes, finches. I shared this information, suggesting a couple of field guides and Web sites, and received this reply:

You answered my question as far as these being known.  They were definitely hummingbirds.  they were to small for anything else and the yellow, red and green variety were eating from the feeder.  my daughters friend had hit one on the yellow ones with his car and killed it.  Do you have any suggestions on how to attract them so I can get a picture

Oh, they were small? and eating from a feeder? and one was dead? Well, that’s certainly compelling evidence for not one but two previously unknown hummingbird species in the unexplored wilds of Michigan. Can’t wait to see those pictures.

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.

Einstein was not an entomologist

Male Squash Bee in pumpkin flower

Squash Bees are among approximately 4000 species of native bees (and thousands of other native pollinators) in North America.

If the bee disappeared off the face of the globe then man would have only four years of life left. – Albert Einstein

The quote above, as the caption to a photo of a honeybee, is making the rounds on Facebook. While I appreciate the environmental sentiment behind it, there are several serious problems:

  1. There’s no evidence that Einstein actually said or wrote this. It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to bolster a statement’s credibility by misattributing it to a famous dead person.
  2. Even if he did, he was a physicist, not an entomologist or pollination ecologist. Being a genius in one field doesn’t make someone an instant expert in another. I’d be far more impressed if this quote was attributed to Steve Buchmann, but regrettably few people have heard of the University of Arizona’s eminent bee ecologist.
  3. “The bee” suggests that the quote refers to the honeybee (Apis mellifera), as we would understand that “the horse” refers to domestic horses and “the dog” refers to domestic dogs. There are thousands of other species of bees, and many of them are important to agriculture. North America’s native flora and indigenous agriculture got along quite well before European colonists introduced the honeybee, thank you very much.*
  4. I’m going to belabor the previous point, because I find it really annoying when people use “the [generic singular noun]” to make sweeping generalizations about large and diverse groups, e.g. saying “the hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird,” when many hummingbirds are larger than many small songbirds. AARGH!**

It’s hard to overstate the importance of pollinators, but too many people obsess over the honeybee without understanding their dark side. Yes, the decline in honeybee populations in North America is causing problems, mostly for beekeepers, the farms that use their services, and people who eat a lot of honey. From environmental and public safety perspectives, however, the decline isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As important as they are to agriculture, honeybees take food out of the mouths of native pollinators and present a real danger to people, pets, and livestock.

From most of the southern U.S. through Central and South America, the feral (“wild”) honeybee population carries genes from highly aggressive African strains that have earned them the nickname “killer bees.” Though virtually indistinguishable from pure European honeybees, Africanized bees attack en masse when they sense a threat to their hive. Even a single sting from any honeybee can be fatal to those allergic to their venom, but Africanized bees often sting their victims hundreds of times. You don’t have to be allergic to die from such an assault, and many people have. They also defend a larger area around their hives and will chase perceived predators farther than their European cousins do. Where these aggressive bees are known to occur, it’s prudent to assume that any feral honeybee hive is Africanized and give it a wide berth.

Native bees are excellent pollinators and nowhere near as dangerous to people and pets as honeybees. They already do much of the pollination work in our gardens, as long as some natural habitat remains nearby to support their nests and other ecological needs. If farmers are going to make effective use of native bees’ services, they’ll need to reduce field sizes and pesticide use and create mosaics of cultivation and native vegetation, and that’s also a good thing for thousands of other insect species plus birds, mammals, reptiles, etc. that can’t survive in our current agricultural wastelands.

References:

Bugguide.net: Native Bees of North America

Science Daily: Bees, Fruits and Money: Decline of Pollinators Will Have Severe Impact On Nature and Humankind

Science Daily: Honeybees May Not Be as Important to Pollination Services in the UK, Study Suggests

Science Daily: Native Bees Could Fill Pollinator Hole Left By Honeybees

Science Daily: Wild Pollinators Support Farm Productivity and Stabilize Yield

Montana Wildlife Gardener: Build a Mason Bee House in 5 Minutes

* Even if all bees of all species disappeared, we’d still have thousands of other pollinator species that fill similar ecological niches, including wasps and flies. Also, loss of pollinators wouldn’t directly affect crops that don’t need pollination: wheat, corn, rice, and potatoes come to mind.

** A FB commenter tried to defend the quote by claiming that the quotee was using “the bee” to refer to all pollinators(!). If so, why wouldn’t the quotee just say that explicitly? In fact, the history of the quote per Snopes.com suggests that it originated with French beekeepers, which supports the assumption that “the bee” in question is the honeybee.

HOAX: Gum does NOT kill birds

BOGUS: Gum does not kill birds

This blatantly manipulative hoax keeps going around and around and around Facebook, and I’m beyond sick of it. One version currently has 8,725 shares, even though people have debunked it over and over in the comments. It’s frustrating as hell to see a debunking comment followed by a string of “aw, poor birdie” comments, then another debunking and another string of… well, you get the idea.

No one seems to be taking credit/blame for this garbage, but the originator is an idiot who’s needlessly upsetting goodhearted people.

There are three huge problems with this image:

  1. Wildlife biologists and rehabilitators don’t report birds dying from gum clogs (Google it).
  2. Birds aren’t so stupid that they can’t tell gum from bread (which they shouldn’t be eating either).
  3. The birds in the photo are swallows, which eat only insects, and the dead one has been hit by a car.

There are valid reasons to toss chewing gum in the trash instead of on the street, but saving birds isn’t one of them. Please don’t “like” these posts, don’t share them, and inform any friends who share them that they’re perpetuating a hoax.

Alaskan island now rat free, but not without collateral damage

A poisoning program on an island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain, intended to save native birds from introduced rats, led to the death of more than 420 of its avian residents, including 46 Bald Eagles.

The effort was devised and conducted by Island Conservation, an organization that I mentioned in my post on the Quelili. According to a report by the Ornithological Council, the group applied the rodenticide brodifacoum at rates higher than recommended by experts in island restoration and possibly above the legal limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Glaucous-winged Gulls died from eating the bait, and Bald Eagles died from scavenging their carcasses.

The poisoning campaign freed “Rat Island” of its namesakes, which will greatly increase the productivity of its nesting birds, but the report indicates that the eradication could have been accomplished with far lower mortality of some of the species it was aimed at protecting.

Read the full story at Nature News.