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Hummingbird Connections

Bayou-Diversity (13 September 2020) Connections are a common theme on this blog. We’ve talked about broad connections such as those linking clean water to healthy fish, wildlife, and human populations. Widespread education about more specific connections like the one between monarch butterflies and wild milkweeds have resulted in concerted efforts to benefit these species. Edification of the detrimental impacts of balloon releases on wildlife is another example of spreading the word about connections, negative ones in this case.

Continuing in this vein, today’s topic is about another natural connection unknown to most people. It involves hummingbirds, a favorite subject of birdwatchers if measured by the number of hummingbird feeders sold annually. The animated beauty and madcap antics of hummingbirds provide countless hours of pleasure for many. I don’t know anyone who dislikes hummingbirds or would intentionally jeopardize their well-being. However, people do harm them inadvertently.

Unintentional harm results because of hummingbirds’ vital connection to spiders. Female hummingbirds build nests constructed of plant fibers, mosses, lichens, and most critically spider silk that they gather from webs. The silk, like miniature steel cables but stronger, binds the components within the nest and also anchors it to the branch. Additionally, the silk’s elasticity allows the nest to expand and accommodate the fast-growing chicks. Conflicts arise with homeowners who with the aid of toxic chemicals practice a scorched earth policy regarding the presence of spiders and insects in their yard. Not only are they denying many kinds of birds a source of food, they eliminate the opportunity for hummingbirds to nest nearby as the natural connection between them and spiders is severed. It’s quite straightforward; if you want nesting hummingbirds, you must have spiders and their webs. A good way to contribute to healthy habitat for all local avian species is to plant at least part of your yard with native wildflowers and leave the chemicals on the shelf. The natural connections will then take care of themselves. (photo by Donna Ottinger)


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