Hummingbirds Are at Home When We Plant Native Plants

A new study on Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program shows the importance of community science and native plants.

March winds and April showers do not always guarantee May flowers—especially when warming temperatures pose challenges to wildlife and people everywhere. Though urban, suburban, and rural landscapes across the country differ in ecological makeups, planting native grasses, trees, and shrubs in these communities is a comprehensive solution that combats climate change.

Since 2013, Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program has helped scientists understand how climate change, flowering patterns, and human interactions impact hummingbirds. The community science initiative encourages people to 1) provide wildlife resources like diverse assemblages of native plants and supplemental nectar feeders to attract hummingbirds and 2) monitor hummingbird visitation. To determine if these recommendations, like planting native plants and supplemental feeding, correlated with hummingbird behavior, Audubon conducted a study that examined its wildlife-gardening program, Hummingbirds at Home.

Across the country, community scientists logged hummingbird sightings and plant surveys in yards, gardens, porches, parks, and window boxes via the Hummingbirds at Home app. Between January 2013 and December 2018, community scientists logged a total of 4,801 hummingbird and plant surveys from 744 unique locations in the coterminous United States. Audubon researchers, including leading author, Tim Meehan, and Audubon’s director of science technology, Kathy Dale, say the results were a confirmation of what scientists always suspected.

“This report confirmed that hummingbirds visit gardens with a wide variety of plants and a high number of native plants,” says Dale.  “The amount of surveys we received from multiple places in the country also showed us that people valued learning about bird behavior. Watching hummingbirds in the garden can be just as fun as watching them at a feeder.”

The results of this first peer-reviewed study about Hummingbirds at Home also applied to native plant research. One of the most interesting discoveries for John Rowden, Audubon’s senior director of Bird-Friendly Communities, was pinpointing plants, trees, and shrubs that were native to a bird’s range. Though native plants are habitat specific, the results showed some native plants thriving in various regions of the country – and where these plants thrive, so do hummingbirds. Rowden, who was also one of the leading researchers of the study, says these additional findings were possible because of community science.

“Even if plants may not be native to an area or ZIP code, they can be native to a migratory hummingbird’s range. Year-round, hummingbird populations shift and native plants like Cardinal Flower, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lupines, Milkweeds, that thrive in multiple regions, are natural nectar sources,” says Rowden. “When we look at the landscape that hummingbirds are in, there are factors that we can identify that are correlated with native plant communities. This country is so big and we need community scientists to help us understand how hummingbirds are faring in environments.”