Hummingbirds in Utah

Hummingbird feeding from Corrine Thul’s Hand
Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Corrine Thul

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Depending on where you are in Utah, fall is just around the corner. Or it may already be here. That means it’s time for many of our Utah birds to migrate south to warmer temperatures and more abundant food sources. Here in Logan Canyon, we’re getting ready to bid farewell to our charismatic little friends, the hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are a New World phenomenon, living only in the western hemisphere. They are primarily tropical. Of the 330 species we know about, 95% live south of the US-Mexico border. Ecuador has 163 species–more than any other country. Colombia is next with 136 including a new species discovered just 5 years ago. Hummingbirds are known by a number of different names in Spanish including the generic term colibrí, picaflores meaning flower pickers ; and the more poetic term, joyas voladores or “flying jewels.”

In spite of its great size, only 16 different hummingbirds regularly found on the North American continent. Interestingly, –except for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird—all of these species breed west of the Mississippi River.

In Utah—roughly comparable to the size of Ecuador—5 species are regular visitors. Broad-tailed hummingbird and the black-chinned hummingbird are the most common and most widespread. They both overwinter in Mexico.

The calliope hummingbird is also seen in Utah. It is the smallest breeding bird in North America weighing about as much as a penny! The calliope is also the smallest long distant migrant bird in the world traveling up to 5600 miles in a single year. The rufous hummingbird is another long distance migrant seen in Utah, traveling from as far north as Alaska all the way down to central Mexico .

There is some controversy over whether or not you should continue to feed hummingbirds in fall. Some say you should quit feeding by late August or the hummingbirds won’t migrate. This is not true– in fact many hummingbirds begin migrating when their natural food sources are still intact. According to Audubon Society website, in the fall, you should keep your feeders up for two weeks after you see the last bird using it. The tiny birds need to double their body mass before migration, and a bit of extra nectar can only help.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.
And thanks to Corrine Thul for supporting both hummingbird conservation and educational programming in Logan Canyon.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2009 Corrine Thul

Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Hummingbirds/Nectar Feeders, National Audubon Society, http://audubon.org/bird/at_home/bird_feeding/hum_feeders.html (accessed September 2, 2009)

Johnsgard, Paul A. 1997.  The Hummingbirds of North America.  Washington DC:  Smithsonian Institution Press. http://www.amazon.com/Hummingbirds-North-America-Paul-Johnsgard/dp/1560987081

Klesius, Michael.  2007.  Flight of Fancy.  National Geographic. Vol. 211.  pp. 114-129.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/01/hummingbirds/klesius-text.html

Utah woman has a way with hummingbirds, Daily Herald, July 19, 2009, http://www.heraldextra.com/news/state-and-regional/article_c8e879cd-c5bc-5a9a-810a-63cce86cd09c.html

Nature News, Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer, The Genius of Birds: Watch a Hummingbird’s Tongue in Action – See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/the_genius_of_b073491.html

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014, http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/Difusion/pdf/colibries_mexico_y_norteamerica.pdf

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014, http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/Difusion/pdf/colibries_mexico_y_norteamerica.pdf

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change

Packrat Fossil Midden City of RocksCourtesy and Copyright 2009 Julio Betancourt - All Rights Reserved
Packrat Fossil Midden
City of Rocks
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

In the late 1970’s, springtime in the American West warmed abruptly by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the valleys, double that higher up. Our average onset of Spring now comes a week earlier across the West. If these are the first signs of climate change, even longer growing seasons will trigger not just earlier blooms but also northward plant migrations.

The past provides us with lessons about plant migrations. A thousand years ago, one-needle pinyon hopped from the Raft River Mountains in Utah to City of Rocks, Idaho. Across Utah, two-needle pinyon leaped over the Uintas to Flaming Gorge. We know this from radiocarbon dates on pinyon pine needles taken from ancient nest heaps of packrats preserved in caves. According to Dr. Julio Betancourt of the U.S. Geological Survey, who uses these packrat middens and tree rings to reveal past plant migrations, these recent advances by Utah’s two pinyon pines followed the Medieval Climate Anomaly, a period from 900 to 1300 AD marked by warming in Europe and severe drought in Utah.

Packrat 7000 year old Midden Joshua Tree Natl Park, Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt - All Rights Reserved
Packrat 7000 year old Midden
Joshua Tree Natl Park
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

Droughts figure prominently in Dr. Betancourt’s view of tree migrations. Droughts trigger bark beetle infestations, wildfires, and tree dieoffs, opening up niches for regeneration. When the drought abates, the resident tree species typically return. With long-term warming, however, other species can move in from lower elevations or further south. Dead trees now abound on Utah’s landscape, and Dr. Betancourt thinks that we are on the verge of a new spate of tree migrations.

This go around, which species retreat or advance will depend on new factors, including human fragmentation of the landscape and accelerated dispersal of native and non-native species that hitch rides with us. To conserve ecological goods and services associated with some species, Dr. Betancourt argues, we will have to manage for these plant migrations.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Julio Betancourt

Text: Julio Betancourt USGS NRP Tucson: Biotic Response to Climate Variability

Faculty and Staff > Julio Betancourt

Additional Reading:

USGS National Research Program: Tucson AZ
http://wwwpaztcn.wr.usgs.gov/home.html

Climate Change and the Great Basin, Jeanne C. Chambers, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Reno, NV, 2008,

A Database of Paleoecological Records from Neotoma Middens in Western North America, USGS/NOAA North American Packrat Midden Database, http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/midden/ (Accessed 27 August 2009)

Don’t Tread on Me!

Don't tread on me! Great Basin Rattlesnake Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand
Great Basin Rattlesnake
Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Rattlesnakes are pit vipers with heavy bodies and broad heads. There are about 30 species and 40 more subspecies found in North and South America. They aren’t found anywhere else. All possess rattles and all are venomous.

Here in Utah we have 5 species plus 2 subspecies. The Great basin rattlesnake is the most widespread, living all across Western Utah at elevations up to 9000 feet. Another subspecies of western rattler–the midget faded rattlesnake –is dominant in the eastern part of the state. The Hopi rattlesnake and the greenish colored prairie rattlesnake are found in southeastern Utah. And the Mojave rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, and sidewinder are found only in the extreme southwest corner of Utah.

The rattle itself is a unique biological feature. It’s a loose, but interlocking series of nested segments—actually modified scales– at the end of the tail. When vibrated, the rattle produces a hissing sound. Kevin Colver– an expert in natural sound recordings –provided this clip of a Mojave rattlesnake.

A snake gets a new rattle segment every time it sheds—and it sheds from one to four times a year. 15 or 16 rattles are common in captive snakes, but in wild snakes six to eight are more common. In wild snakes, rattles are subject to a lot of wear and tear. So they break off before they get very long.
The rattle sound is the reaction of a startled or threatened snake. You’ll often see the rattling snake in a defensive S-shaped coil—but not always!

Aggression and venom in rattlesnakes vary by both species type and by individual. The western diamondback rattlesnake is the archetypal large, aggressive and very dangerous species, responsible for the majority of human fatalities in America. But it’s northern range limit is south of the Utah border. However, the Mojave rattler found in southeastern Utah is extremely toxic, excitable and its venom attacks both the nervous system and circulatory system.

But rattlesnakes aren’t out to get us—mainly they just want to be left alone. You’ll generally be fine if you stay aware of what might be in or around rocks, and don’t walk barefoot or in open-toed shoes in their habitat. Also, use a flashlight after dark –most rattlesnakes are active at night too!

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic.
And to Kevin Colver for the sound of the rattlesnake. Additional nature sound recordings can be found at westernsoundscape.org

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Sound: Courtesy and Copyright 2006 Kevin Colver
Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2009 Holly Strand
Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Klauber, Laurence M. 1982. Rattlesnakes. Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. Berkeley: University of California Press, http://www.amazon.com/Rattlesnakes-Habits-Histories-Influence-Mankind/dp/0520210565 (1997 Version)

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah Conservation Data Center. http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ (Accessed July 17, 2009)

Utah Paper Wasps

Adult Poliste Paper Wasp
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

We credit the Chinese with inventing paper 2000 years ago, but some social wasps have been making their paper nests for eons. Species of paper wasps are found throughout Utah.

The burly bald-faced hornet workers are patterned in black and white. They place their grey, basketball sized paper nests in tree branches.

Bold yellow and black striped Yellowjackets are the persistent unwelcome guests at summer picnics. They too wrap their round nests in an envelope of paper, but typically place it in a shallow underground chamber. Within the paper envelope, both hornets and yellowjackets have a muti-tiered stack of paper honeycombs, like an inverted pagoda.

Open-faced nest of Polistes
paper wasp with grub-like larvae
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

Our most familiar paper wasps belong to the genus Polistes. These are the reddish-brown spindly looking wasps. They make their simple paper nests under your home’s roof eaves and deck railings. A Polistes nest consists of a single inverted paper honeycomb suspended from a stiff, short stalk. There is no paper envelope, so you can readily see the hexagonal paper cells. Around your yard, look for the workers scraping fibers from weathered wood surfaces. Workers mix the chewed fibers with saliva and water, carry the ball of wood pulp home, and add it to the thin sheets of their paper nest. The nest is their nursery, where you can see the queen’s tiny sausage shaped eggs and the fat white grubs. The grubs are fed by their sisters, the workers, who scour the surrounding habitat for insect prey or damaged fruit.

The enclosed nest of the
bald-faced hornet
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

Utah has been invaded by the European species Polistes dominula. These interlopers are displacing our native Polistes. Where these European Polistes wasps are a stinging nuisance, you can easily dispatch them at their nests with a sprayed solution of dishwashing detergent and water. Thus stripped of its clever defenders, take the opportunity to admire their homes of paper.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/yellowjackets-hornets-wasps09.pdf

http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2077.html

http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg348.html