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September 8, 2009

Wild About Utah: Hummingbirds

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Depending on where you are in Utah, fall is just around the corner. Or it may already be here. That means it’s time for many of our Utah birds to migrate south to warmer temperatures and more abundant food sources. Here in Logan Canyon, we’re getting ready to bid farewell to our charismatic little friends, the hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are a New World phenomenon, living only in the western hemisphere. They are primarily tropical. Of the 330 species we know about, 95% live south of the US-Mexico border. Ecuador has 163 species--more than any other country. Colombia is next with 136 including a new species discovered just 5 years ago. Hummingbirds are known by a number of different names in Spanish including the generic term colibrí, picaflores meaning flower pickers, and the more poetic term, joyas voladores or "flying jewels."

In spite of its great size, only 16 different hummingbirds are regularly found on the North American continent. Interestingly, except for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird—all of these species breed west of the Mississippi River.

In Utah, roughly comparable to the size of Ecuador, 5 species are regular visitors. Broad-tailed hummingbird and the black-chinned hummingbird are the most common and most widespread. They both overwinter in Mexico.

The calliope hummingbird is also seen in Utah. It is the smallest breeding bird in North America weighing about as much as a penny! The calliope is also the smallest long distant migrant bird in the world traveling up to 5600 miles in a single year. The rufous hummingbird is another long distance migrant seen in Utah, traveling from as far north as Alaska all the way down to central Mexico .

There is some controversy over whether or not you should continue to feed hummingbirds in fall. Some say you should quit feeding by late August or the hummingbirds won’t migrate. This is not true. In fact, many hummingbirds begin migrating when their natural food sources are still intact. According to the Audubon Society's website, you should keep your feeders up for two weeks after you see the last bird using it in the fall. The tiny birds need to double their body mass before migration, and a bit of extra nectar can only help.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic. And thanks to Corrine Thul for supporting both hummingbird conservation and educational programming in Logan Canyon.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.


Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2009 Corrine Thul
Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Wild About Utah is a weekly nature series produced by Utah Public Radio in cooperation with Stokes Nature Center and Bridgerland Audubon Society. Archives of the program can be found at www.wildaboututah.org.

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