Rufous Hummingbird: Will Migratory Species Adapt to Climate Change?

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In the Pacific Northwest, hummingbirds rely on early sprign flowers like the salmonberry. Photo: peardg / CC by 2.0

In the Pacific Northwest, hummingbirds rely on early spring flowers like the salmonberry. Photo: peardg / CC by 2.0

Changing Climate: Hummingbird Populations May Have Some Ability to Adapt

What happened the next year was intriguing, though. Moran says that some birds that did not arrive in 2011 also did not arrive in 2012. These populations may have been lost due to the multiple changes along the birds’ migration routes. Oddly enough, however, some birds banded in earlier years did return in 2012. To Moran, this suggests that these birds may have been able to breed elsewhere in the intervening year, perhaps further south. It may suggest that the hummingbird population is more versatile than one might imagine it to be.

A changing climate makes conditions challenging for animals that live in one place. It is even more challenging for those that migrate. According to Moran, “instead of being able to make choices in one environment, they have to make the correct choice at every location.” Hummingbirds follow a wave of flowering up the West Coast. If the flowers don’t open on time in any one location, that’s a problem for the birds. When you’re faced with a host of restaurants along your route that have opening hours that keep you hungry, what is a bird to do?

Unfortunately, in the past half century, the Rufous population has suffered a nearly three percent decline every year – a significant decrease that is likely due to a host of different factors. Intriguingly, Moran says that the population does seem to be increasing in its northern range, an indication that the birds as a whole may be able to adapt a little to a changing climate.

Migratory Hummingbirds and a Changing Environment

Will migratory hummingbirds be able to adapt to a changing climate? While the Rufous populations seem to have some ability to change, the changes in the conditions along their route are also profound. Change is hard for those species that stay in one place. For migrating species, each individual altered site poses a new challenge.

Resources

Audubon. Watch List: Rufous Hummingbird. (2013). Accessed January 10th, 2013.

University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology. (2012). Accessed January 9th, 2013.

Moran, Alison. Personal Interview. January 7th, 2013.

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