|A male Allen's hummingbird visits a nectar feeder. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Global warming, habitat destruction, development, drought and even outdoor cats are threatening one of our favorite backyard birds: the Allen’s hummingbird.
This little jewel is among the 170 California species threatened by climate change, according to a report by the National Audubon Society. Studies have shown declining populations of Allen’s hummingbirds in recent years. And the report lists the bird as one of North America’s climate-endangered species.
Audubon California predicts that the Allen’s hummingbird, voted as the organization’s bird of the year in 2014, could lose up to 90 percent of its breeding range by 2080, forcing the species to move inland from coastal areas to find food.
“Southern California is highly developed,” said Andrea Jones, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon California. “The resulting habitat conversion and decreased food supply put them at risk.”
Allen’s hummingbirds breed exclusively along a narrow strip of coastline in California and southern Oregon. This restricted range makes them susceptible to natural disasters, disease and habitat destruction.
“Any bird with such a limited range will have less ability to adapt,” Jones said.
Allen’s hummingbirds have compact bodies about 3 1/2 inches long with rusty orange, white and green plumage. Males have a showy iridescent red throat. They are extremely similar in appearance to the widespread rufous hummingbird, though the solid green back of the Allen’s is generally a distinguishing factor.
There are two subspecies of Allen’s hummingbirds found in Orange County, one migrates to Mexico, while the other stays in Southern California year-round.
Protecting these tiny birds during nesting, which runs from late October, through early June, is important for the species to continue. During this time, males perform dramatic courtship displays, which includes flying straight up then diving steeply down, then up again in a J-shaped pattern, or in a back-and-forth pendulum flight in front of a female. Females build the nest, sit on the eggs and care for the chicks without assistance from the male. This hard-working mother can have four or five broods, or nests with babies, during a season.
Allen’s hummingbirds, which are known to live up to five years, will return to the same shrub to nest for many seasons, often reusing a previous nest, Jones said.
Homeowners can help these birds by providing a fresh water source, planting native flowering plants and avoid using pesticides in the yard, she said.
Bird enthusiasts can also get involved in Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program. Its free app allows users to observe and record these birds. The data gives scientists information on their numbers, movement and nectar sources. Go to hummingbirdsathome.org.