Hummingbird Watching Goes High Tech

You watching me? Photo by Martha Benedict.
You watching me? Photo by Martha Benedict.

A new program from the National Audubon Society wants Americans to take our universal love of hummingbirds to new heights.

Hummingbirds at Home” is a citizen science project that invites not only hardcore birders but newcomers to help researchers understand the daily life of the zippiest bird of the Western world.  A new free mobile app (Android app available now; iPhone version coming soon) will help users specifically identify both birds and flowers they hummers enjoy.

“This is the first foray [by Audubon] into a project that targets a specific bird where information can be tallied via web or through a new mobile App,” says Jeff Chapman, director of the Audubon Center at Debs Park.

“Hummingbirds at Home” launches April 10, 2013 and runs until June.

To gear up for a potential Hummingbird Hoohah, the Audubon Center at Debs Park will host a free community event on Saturday April 13 from 1 pm -4 p.m. Learn about hummingbirds, get tips on how best to see and record them and go on a hummer watching walk. If the mobile app and website data recording is too mind-boggling techy, Audubon folks will be distributing good old fashioned paper data forms for citizen scientists.

Rest assured, continues Chapman, this seemingly simple feel-good project has important implications. Flowers are blooming earlier because of warmer temperatures and this shift could impact hummingbirds which rely on the nectar for survival. Research is scarce on the nature of urban hummers – especially those in SoCal that reside here year-round.

“There are big gaps in what we know about them, particularly in the wintering months,” says Chapman. “Now is the time of year we see them more active in our backyards and gardens, and it’s interesting to see which plants they go toward – natives, exotics, ornamentals as well as hummingbird feeders.”

Data from the project will be analyzed and shared with Pollinator Partnership, an organization that champions birds, bees and bats as “responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.”

Indeed, the project aims to discover if feeders and non-native plants can support hummingbird populations. Information can also pinpoint where and when hummers are most vulnerable because of no nectar resources. Finally, the data can also determine consequences if hummingbirds and certain flowers go extinct.

The two most widely seen hummers in SoCal are the Allen’s and Anna’s – currently, the Allen’s are on the Audubon’s Watch List because of their limited range and small coastal California population.

Chapman hopes that families, single folk, students and seniors take part in the project. Anyone with an interest in the natural world.  “There’s been a lot of talk about reconciliation ecology, what we can do today to return the landscape to a more natural state,” he says adding that gardeners, homeowners and renters all can play a part in a healthy ecosystem.  “There is so much we can do to help so many species from just our own backyard.”

Find out more at the Audubon Citizen Science web portal

See also how to create a healthy backyard and info on hummingbird feeders.


  • Hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds, measuring between 2-8 inches in length.

  • A newborn hummingbird is about the size of a honeybee, an egg, the size of a small bean.

  • There are about 340 species of hummingbirds in the world, all in the western hemisphere.

  • Only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird breeds east of the Mississippi River.

  • Ruby-throats fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico – 500+ miles.

  • Ruby-throat beats its wings 40-80 times a second, and maintains an average flight speed of 30 mph.  Escape speeds can reach 50 mph.

  • Hummingbirds are the only species of birds that can truly fly backward.

  • Igor Sikorsky considered the exceptional hovering ability of hummingbirds when developing his pioneering designs for helicopters.

  • Hovering is the most metabolically expensive form of flight because of the energy consumed. A hummingbird has the highest measured rate of aerobic metabolism of any living thing.

  • Birds of all sizes have a more efficient respiratory system than humans, because oxygen runs through their entire system of auxiliary air sacs that maintains a constant flow to the lungs.

  • Hummingbird body temperature ranges from 105°- 108°F.

  • A hummingbird lives a relatively short life of great intensity (9 years,) while large creatures that move slowly (elephants, whales) live longer (60 years for wild elephant).

  • Eighty percent (80%) of all birds, including hummingbirds, will not live to see their first birthday.

(This article was originally posted in the Eastsider LA, photo by Martha Benedict (c))