Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program

Costas Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are magical creatures, once revered in the Aztec pantheon, and a backyard delight for modern-day, ordinary humans. These charming acrobatic birds enchant us, and in reciprocation, we entice hummingbirds, either with a feeder, flower rich gardens, or red apparel—or all three—to visit us. But the truth is, we have always needed hummingbirds because as pollinators they provide critical ecosystem services as they flit from one flower to another in quick succession over large distances, consuming nectar and thousands of minute insects. Unfortunately, now hummingbirds need our help  because habitat loss, fragmentation of breeding and wintering grounds, and climate change can have negative impacts on hummingbird health and nutrition.  In addition, hummingbirds are susceptible to health-impacting situations, such as heavy metal and pesticide exposure, injury and death due to window strikes and predation.  Until now, minimal research has been done evaluating hummingbird diseases and determining which risk factors impact their reproduction, nutrition, and health.  The UC Davis Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program is focused on establishing normal health parameters, identifying disease risks, and helping to maintain healthy hummingbird populations.

Who we are

The UC Davis Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program (HHCP) was established by a diverse group of expert researchers, networks, and organizations dedicated to studying and protecting hummingbirds worldwide. Our partners include the UC Davis Wildlife Museum, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum Veterinary Hospital, and members of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network.

The health and population dynamics of key hummingbird species are our highest priority. HHCP researchers, expressly trained in handling and banding hummingbirds, conduct randomized banding sessions, analyze blood samples, collect data on hummingbird sightings, and map territories.Our researchers also measure populations, track factors that affect hummingbird health, and monitor migration patterns, all of which contribute to establishing official standards and guidelines to measure hummingbird health in California.

The Problem We are Solving

The natural lifecycle of hummingbirds has been disrupted by large-scale global development and, as a result, 47 species are endangered or susceptible to species-wide population decline. The migratory nature of hummingbirds, in addition to anthropogenic factors, exposes them to a variety of disease-potentiating agents and hazardous situations, such as:

  • Habitat loss
  • Fragmentation of breeding and wintering habitats
  • Exposure to dense aggregates of birds and disease agents on feeders
  • Human-caused changes in insect and plant diversity and abundance
  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Mortality due to window strikes and nest predation
  • Changes in predatory corvid abundance

HHCP researchers established the Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program to examine these concerns..

Why Should You Care?

Hummingbirds serve as ecosystem sentinels as they travel rapidly from flower to flower, providing vital environmental functions, such as insectivory and pollination; however, scant information is available on the disease incidence, prevalence, and population health of the hummingbirds that breed and migrate through California (specifically Anna’s, Allen’s, Black-chinned, Calliope, Costa’s, Rufous, and Broad tailed hummingbirds) because they have not been widely studied.

The focus of HHCP research is to provide key scientific information to fill in these gaps.

Our Strategy and Vision

The HHCP uses education, research and outreach to sustain healthy hummingbird populations and inspire people to invest in ecosystem health.

We focus on protecting hummingbirds and their habitat by combining scientific research with outreach and education awareness. Core components include hummingbird health and population monitoring research (hummingbird banding, hummingbird tracking, pesticide and heavy metal exposure studies,) and environmental education for universities and local public schools.

Our Needs

With your support, the UC Davis Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program will build a solid infrastructure from which outside funding can be developed.  In addition to helping the birds, your funding will be substantially leveraged with participation of volunteer citizen scientists, and University of California, Davis, undergraduate and graduate students/interns within a variety of disciplines, such as engineering, design, veterinary medicine, wildlife, fish and conservation biology, as well as the professional writing minor.

Future studies that the program will embark upon include:

  1. Hummingbirds’ exposure to heavy metals and pesticides.
  2. Assessment of immunological function of hummingbirds.
  3. Pathological findings of California hummingbirds.
  4. Identification and prevalence of tail mites in Anna's hummingbirds

We are always looking for photographs of these unique creatures; all photographs sent our way will be credited appropriately and are much appreciated.

If you are interested in learning more feel free to contact us.