Rufous Hummingbird

Rufus Hummingbird Courtesy US FWS, Roy W, Lowe, Photographer
Rufus Hummingbird
Courtesy US FWS,
Roy W. Lowe, Photographer

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds! I’m always amazed how a tiny life form with a brain smaller than a pea is capable of such amazing intelligence and behaviors. In fact, a hummingbird’s brain is proportionally larger in size to their body than that of any other bird. And like the corvid family (jays, magpies, and crows), research has found that hummers have an amazing memory.

Now is the seasonal peak for hummingbird activity with young birds fresh off the nest. One of my favorites, the migrating rufous hummingbird, may join the milieu on their long distance marathon as they make their way from as far north as Alaska to winter in Mexico.

The feistiest hummingbird in North America, the brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. These fearless competitors will challenge even the largest hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight, and often win the contest! Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and now in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

Rufous Hummers have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to timberline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

They may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, the visiting Rufous is likely to move on after just a week or two.

Regarding feeders, make sugar water mixtures with about one cup of sugar per quart of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. If you are among those who have these dazzling sprites of amazing life stop by, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

This is Jack Greene reading for “Wild About Utah”


Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Roy W Lowe, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Short-eared Owl Tracking

Short-eared Owl(SEOW) face-Courtesy & Copyright Neil Paprocki, HawkWatch International, Photographer
Short-eared Owl(SEOW) face
Asio flammeus
Courtesy and Copyright Neil Paprocki,
HawkWatch International, Photographer

Short-eared Owl(SEOW) body-Courtesy & Copyright Neil Paprocki, HawkWatch International, PhotographerShort-eared Owl(SEOW) body
Asio flammeus
Courtesy and Copyright Neil Paprocki,
HawkWatch International, Photographer

Evan Buechley and Neil Paprocki Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley, PhotographerEvan Buechley and Neil Paprocki
Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Evan Buechley and Neil Paprocki Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley, PhotographerEvan Buechley and Neil Paprocki
Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

My name is Neil Paprocki. I’m the conservation biologist with HawkWatch International, which is a raptor conservation and education non-profit based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

My name’s Evan Buechley. I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Utah.

Neil: Evan’s lab at the University of Utah had some transmitters and HawkWatch has been starting a short eared owl project in Utah and so this was a nice fit for us to collaborate with each other.

Evan: The short eared owl is a very cosmopolitan species. It’s found really around the world, throughout Europe and Asia also. We’re initiating a tracking study of the short eared owls here in northern Utah and the objective is really to learn more about their movements. We can learn where they’re breeding and where they might migrate after they’re done breading. We just don’t know much about the movements of short eared owls and so hopefully we can pull some of that data together and really get a broader continental or even global sense of how short eared owls move.

Sound of walking through grass

Neil: So what we do is put a mouse in this little cage and the mouse is protected in the cage and we cover the cage with nooses and we put a weight on it and we will toss it out in front of an owl and the owl will try to come down for the mouse and as it’s coming down for the mouse all of these nooses are here and in theory the birds feet will get stuck in the nooses and once the bird realizes it’s stuck usually is tries to fly away and when that happens the nooses tighten (sound of nooses tightening) and they tighten around the birds feet and they can’t get out and then the trap is weighted down so the bird can’t fly away with the trap.

Neil: We’ve already caught this owl and we have it in a can so he’s nice and calm and he can’t see anything. And we’re going to get our banding kit over here. Usually the first thing that we do is we put the metal band onto his leg and the metal band has a unique number on it and [from] that number, if anyone else happens to catch this bird, they’ll know exactly where this bird came from, where it was caught, who put the band on it. So that’s the first thing we do is we get the band off of here and then we put it on his leg so it’s nice and snug, not too tight, not too loose, and that’s the bird’s new ID tag. And this whole time I’m holding on to his legs because that’s what we’re worried about because they have pretty good sized talons for a small bird.

Neil: So this transmitter weighs eight and a half grams and it does have a little solar panel on the back so it can in theory last for a very long time because the sun can keep it charged and it can keep giving us data. The transmitter is put on with a backpack harness. So we use some Teflon to attach it just like you would wear a backpack.

Evan: I say we let him go.

For Wild About Utah this is Neil and Evan signing off from Howell, Utah.

Sound of Evan and Neil getting in their truck and driving away down a gravel road.


    Courtesy and © Neil Paprocki, HawkWatch International, Photographer
    Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Text & composition:
    Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University
Neil Paprocki, Conservation Biologist, HawkWatch International
Evan Buechley, PhD candidate, University of Utah

Sources & Additional Reading:

Join a BioBlitz this Year

BioBlitz Logo, Courtesy Audubon International
BioBlitz 2016 Logo
Courtesy Audubon International


National Parks BioBlitz Logo, Courtesy National Geographic SocietyNational Parks BioBlitz Logo
Courtesy National Geographic Society

See also:

“So what is a BioBlitz anyway”, by far the most common question we get from the public who visit our parks and other venues offering the event.
A BioBlitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. Scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to get an overall count of the plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms that live in a place.

For the past decade the National Geographic Society and National Park Service have collaborated on a BioBlitz in a different park each year. This year in order to celebrate the NPS centennial, over 250 BioBlitzes are happening across the country and throughout the year. The resulting recordings can be impressive with hundreds of organisms showing up. It is great fun, a celebration of life in all of its myriad forms

My first experience occurred two years ago at the Golden Gate NRA where several thousand folks joined us. One of many highlights was standing on the Golden Gate bridge with a bunch of college students during a wind driven rain storm counting porpoises swimming through far below. Joining us was a lead mammologist who had been researching the return of these remarkable beings. The porpoises had been excluded from the bay by a massive cable net installed during WWII to prevent enemy submarines from entering the bay. Many new species of life were added to the Park list as is often the case.

Last year I joined the Hawaii Volcanoes NP for another grand experience including many native Polynesians adding a marvelous cultural component to the experience, then on to Yellowstone NP where my team investigated pika numbers near Mammoth Hot Springs. The park is especially concerned with the warming trend and reduction of snow pack on their long term survival.
I just returned from blitzing New Mexico’s Bandelier NM. As with Hawaii Volcano, they included a strong cultural presence by inviting in the Pueblo people to perform and exhibit their rich life ways. During the two-day event 17 inventory teams collected 877 observations and identified 363 species.

Back home we had our first event on the Logan River golf course a week ago sponsored by Audubon International and our local Bridgerland Audubon chapter. For our first run we did well. 57 bird species, 67 plants, 1 reptile, 1 amphibian, and a few fungi made the list. There are many more species that were overlooked given our short window of time and limited numbers of observers.
Perhaps you will find opportunity to join a Bioblitz, or create one of your own in your area. Gather up some folks, load the I Naturalist program on your smart phone or I pad and spend a few ours or few days reveling in what nature has to offer- many surprises to say the least!
This has been Jack Greene reading for WAU.
This is Jack Greene reading for Wild About Utah.

Images: Courtesy Audubon International and National Geographic Society
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society & USU Office of Sustainability

Additional Reading:

National Parks BioBlitz, National Park Service,

Audubon International BioBlitz 2016, Audubon International,

BioBlitz 2016, National Geographic Society,


Click to view Rain Water Storage Tank, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Rain Water Storage Tank
Private Residence in New Mexico
Installed by Jeff Adams of Terrasophia
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Have you ever looked at a healthy forest and wondered “how do those trees, shrubs, and smaller plants thrive without fertilizer inputs, pest control, consistent watering, tilling, thinning, and being overtaken by unwanted species?” Many in Utah, in striving for alternative ways to grow food and landscapes in general, are turning away from conventional practices and experimenting in a relatively new design process called “permaculture.”

But what exactly does permaculture mean? Permaculture is a design philosophy for producing sustainable landscapes and buildings that work as a system and have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.

Although concepts included in permaculture design have been in practice for millennia by indigenous cultures worldwide, the term “permaculture” was first coined in Tasmania in the mid 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. They describe permaculture as “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber, and energy for provision of local needs.”

As Utahns lean toward water conservation and self-sufficiency, many are incorporating permaculture into their lifestyles. The first, and most important, principle in permaculture design is “observe and interact.” Watch your landscape during different weather events – in heavy rain, regular rain, high winds, and more. Where do storms come in from? Which way do the high winds normally blow? Which areas receive full sun? Where do you hear consistent noise and do you like or dislike what you hear? How does water flow on your property in a rain event? These observations will serve as the foundation guiding how you will eventually design your landscape.

Following “observe and interact” are 11 additional principles, which can be found in most introductory texts about permaculture design, and in USU Extension’s permaculture fact sheet. After making long and slow observations, you may decide you wish to block noise coming in from a certain part of your property, or capture rainwater from your south-facing roof. This is where various tools and techniques come into play, such as harvesting rainwater and stacking functions. Rainwater is a clean, free resource that falls on our roof and properties. Are you effectively using this free resource by building basins and swales to better capture and infiltrate water instead of mounds where water would easily runoff? Are you capturing and storing water from your roof for drier periods? Stacking functions is the practice of considering the entire spectrum of benefits various elements (such as plants or structures) on your landscape could provide, and then grouping elements in a way that works as system. A common example includes the Native American “Three Sisters Garden” of corn, beans, and squash. Nitrogen-fixing beans provide a stable, slow-release nitrogen source for the corn, whereas corn provides a pole for the beans to grow. Squash forms a natural ground cover to reduce weeds and retain soil moisture, while the prickly hairs help deter pests. The gardener can reap a higher yield through stacking functions like this.

To find out more, search for USU Extension’s permaculture fact sheet.

For Utah State University Extension Sustainability, this is Roslynn Brain.


Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Roslynn Brain
Text: Roslynn Brain, Utah State University Extension Sustainability

Sources & Additional Reading: