February in New York isn't the most natural time to be thinking of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Mounds of snow might be an obvious focus instead. But Lauren Makeyenko, Director of Education for Buffalo Audubon Society, enjoys talking about hummingbirds out of season because it helps people think about how their actions in the dead of winter, such as planning their spring planting, will help birds once the mounds of snow are but distant memories.
This year, Audubon’s science division teamed up with five of Audubon’s centers to educate visitors about the importance of native nectar sources to a healthy hummingbird habitat, and the Hummingbirds at Home program. Hummingbirds at Home is a continent-wide network of citizen scientists helping uncover how hummingbirds are affected by climate change through observations of hummingbird feeding preferences and behavior.
On the Ground in Buffalo
Each Audubon center focused on their programs on habitats unique to their respective locations. This local focus helps people understand how healthy patches of native plants will help hummingbirds as they face changes in their environment from climate change. The February hummingbird focus was the first of several programs that Buffalo Audubon created to that end. Talking about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds before spring migration got people to think about their gardens. Once migration is in full force, the native plant garden at Buffalo Audubon's Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java, New York, provides an excellent focus for hummingbird discussions. Observing feeding hummingbirds in the garden often sparks a chat about which plants each bird prefers. This has been an important tool to engage people when they ask about hummingbirds.
But talking to the public about hummingbirds is only the first step. A big bird-themed banner,created by Audubon’s climate change program,was put up nearby and volunteers use pins that boldly say “Ask me how you can help birds,” tying the interest in birds to more direct action, including joining Hummingbirds at Home. Makeyenko says another way they introduce Hummingbirds at Home to the public is when the gift shop staff talk about the program with every hummingbird feeder sale. "Tying in to climate change with hummingbirds is actually a really good fit," says Makeyenko, explaining that people first want to know about the birds, and then they want to learn challenges and what they can do to help the birds.
The next step for Buffalo Audubon is to develop school programming that introduces the conversation about climate change and the importance of a healthy habitat by focusing on pollinators and gardens. School gardens have become a common teaching tool and can be a springboard to more than just learning about the plants. Parents and teachers have been very positive about the proposed program.
Reaching a Wider Audience
But Buffalo Audubon isn't just focused on the audiences it can reach through its school and center programs. Using printed materials and posters and a traveling exhibit, Buffalo Audubon has sparked conversation about Hummingbirds at Home at various venues like the Pollinator Festival at Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, the Tragically Hip Concert at Seneca Allegany Casino, and the Wyoming County Fair. These events have provided an opportunity to get information about Hummingbirds at Home to many people in a short amount of time.
In addition, partnering with other organizations can drive involvement in Hummingbirds at Home, learning about healthy habitats and climate change, and encouraging native plant sales. Buffalo Audubon developed plant stake cards for native nectar plants that have been used at local nurseries, and these nurseries have also been promoting Hummingbirds at Home by distributing program brochures. The key to this type of relationship is the “win-win” strategy for both partners. Partners in this effort include the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers, Urban Roots Community Garden Center, Menne Nursery and Garden Artistry, and Johnson’s Nursery and Garden Center.