Sabinal

The Rio Grande valley, being one of the premier migratory channels for hummingbirds in the nation, is a “hot bed” for ornithologists and average bird-loving citizens alike, according to one Sabinal birder.

Dolores Valera-Phillips, volunteer coordinator of the New Mexico Hummingbird Connection (NMHC), goes through two gallons of hummingbird nectar a day with her two feeders that attract more than 40 hummingbird “regulars.”

The NMHC, sponsored by the New Mexico Audubon Council and the Randall Davey Audubon Center, is a citizens’ science project in which members observe hummingbirds and collect data, contributing to world-wide ornithological studies.

Begun in 1995, the NMHC now has members in nearly every county in the state. Valera-Phillips said that, though the organization sends out 800 surveys each year, it only receives about 200 back at the end of the year. She said the organization would like to have every member send in their data at the end of the year and would like to see more people join.

“The more people we get involved, the more we’ll understand about these little guys and what they have to tell us,” she said.

The project has already helped scientists discover information about rare hummingbirds, population, migration and nesting habits.

“There’s all kinds of things that the scientific community needs, and there just aren’t enough scientists to go around … (citizen science) is really helping,” Valera-Phillips said.

Hummingbirds can be a direct reflection of the health of the environment, according to Valera-Phillips.

“They are so small, they succumb to any environmental degradation,” she said.

Though Valera-Phillips hasn’t heard of hummingbird numbers declining, she said, “We still need to respect that we live in a fragile desert environment.”

Hummingbirds have a great need for water, especially in the heat of the desert, and data from the NMHC project has reinforced that fact. Hummingbird baths with about 1/2 inch of water are suggested. The birds also like to fly through sprinklers and are also attracted to small springs.

For those interested in birding, Valera-Phillips gave some tips for beginners.

“You need patience,” she said, “at first it can be frustrating, but just go with it … you need to do it fairly often.”

Vital birding tools include a decent pair of binoculars and a bird identification book, she said. She also said getting involved with a birding group, such as the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, which goes birding every Thursday morning, is helpful and fun.

The NMHC suggests that people use plants native to the area in their yards to attract hummingbirds. Colorful flowers, especially red flowers, are common hummingbird targets.

The common recipe for hummingbird nectar is four parts water to one part sugar β€” heated until the sugar dissolves in the water. The NMHC said there is no need to add red dye to the solution, because it can damage the birds’ excretory tracts, and most feeders already have red parts on them to attract the birds. The NMHC suggests cleaning feeders at least once a week to prevent mold. They also advise people to leave feeders up until all the hummingbirds have left the area for the season.

For more information on the NMHC, or hummingbirds in general, contact Deanna Einspahr, Randall Davey Audubon Center, at (505) 983-4609 or email deinspahr@audubon.org; or Dolores Valera-Phillips, doloresvp @juno.com.

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Julia Selby Smith