Is there any surprise that hummingbirds are so well-loved?
With close to 350 species worldwide, hummingbirds are some of the most captivating birds in the world. They are agile, vibrantly colored, and important pollinators, making them both ecologically and culturally significant.
Thanks to their ability to adapt to diverse environments, from cloud forests and shorelines to deserts and suburban backyards, these tiny birds are widespread throughout North America, in particular. Unfortunately, some hummingbird populations are declining.
This decline is the result of things like habitat loss, climate change, pesticides, and other threats. While most hummingbird species are not currently endangered, it is still important to understand the risks that they face and how to protect these birds for generations to come.
Are Hummingbirds Endangered?
To determine if a species is endangered, conservation biologists look at criteria from organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A species is considered endangered if:
- its population has declined rapidly
- its range has become severely restricted
- continuing threats make extinction likely in the foreseeable future
Species are divided into 9 categories:
- Not evaluated
- Data Deficient
- Least Concern
- Near Threatened
- Critically Endangered
- Extinct in the Wild
Most varieties of hummingbirds are currently labeled in the “Least Concern” category, which is great news for hummingbird fans. This is especially true for North American hummingbirds.
However, IUCN does list several South American hummingbirds as being at risk for extinction.
Hummingbird Species Conservation Status
According to the IUCN’s Red List which documents the conservation status of birds around the world, these are the hummingbird species that are currently listed as Endangered, as of 2023:
- Oaxaca Hummingbird
- Mangrove Hummingbird
- Scissor-Tailed Hummingbird
- Sapphire-Bellied Hummingbird
- Hummingbird Lampeye
- Glow-Throated Hummingbird
- Marvelous Spatuletail
- Colorful Puffleg
- Black-Breasted Puffleg
- Violet-Throated Metaltail
- Perija Metaltail
- Gray-Bellied Comet
- Venezuelan Sylph
- Long-Tailed Woodnymph
These are all Central and South American hummingbirds.
What About North American Hummingbirds?
There are about 35 types of hummingbirds in North America. Note that many of these species are also found in South America, as they migrate to southern regions for the winter.
The majority of hummingbirds in North America have stable populations, but there are still threats to their survival. Before we talk about those threats, let’s find out about the conservation status of these birds.
- Allen’s Hummingbird: Increasing population, Least Concern status
- Anna’s Hummingbird: Increasing population, Least Concern status
- Berylline Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- Black-chinned Hummingbird: Increasing population, Least Concern status
- Blue-throated Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- Broad-billed Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- Broad-tailed Hummingbird: Decreasing population, Least Concern status
- Buff-bellied Hummingbird: Unknown population, Least Concern status
- Calliope Hummingbird: Increasing population, Least Concern status
- Costa’s Hummingbird: Increasing population, Least Concern status
- Green violet-ear: Decreasing population, Least Concern status
- Green-breasted Mango: Decreasing population, Least Concern status
- Lucifer Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- Magnificent Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- Plain-capped Starthroat: Decreasing population, Least Concern status
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Increasing population, Least Concern status
- Rufous Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- Violet-crowned Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
- White-eared Hummingbird: Decreasing population, Least Concern status
- Xantus’s Hummingbird: Stable population, Least Concern status
What Are the Biggest Threats to Hummingbird Populations?
Hummingbirds are at risk from things like habitat degradation, climate change, pesticides, invasive species, and disease. Here is some more information about each of these issues and what we can do to prevent further impact on our hummingbird friends.
Deforestation, agricultural development, logging, and urbanization are some of the major culprits of habitat degradation of hummingbirds.
When flowering plants and nesting sites are disturbed or removed, hummingbird populations can struggle to establish new patterns for survival.
Hummingbirds eat a lot of insects, but their main diet consists of nectar that they get from naturally growing flowers. Imagine hummingbirds arriving from their migration to their winter or breeding season habitat only to find that the entire area has been deforested, demolished, or otherwise changed. Their need to consume large amounts of calories to recover quickly from their travels is hindered by this unexpected change.
Climate change is already playing a significant role in the lives of many hummingbird species.
For example, their migration windows and feeding behaviors are changing. The Audubon Society writes, “A growing body of research (McKinney, et al. 2012) indicates flowers are blooming earlier because of warming temperatures. There is potential for this change to impact the established synchronous relationship between hummingbirds arriving on their breeding grounds and the bloom times of their food sources. The degree to which hummingbirds are able to adapt to accommodate these changes is poorly understood, and a comprehensive feeding behavior survey of hummingbird species across the country has yet to be undertaken.”
The National Science Foundation says, “Climate change is making it more challenging for small animals like hummingbirds to reach heights that allow them to evade the impacts of a warming world. . .The biologists, supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, relocated the birds to two areas at much higher altitudes than their natural habitat. After an adjustment period, the team measured the hummers’ metabolic rates and discovered that they experienced a drop in metabolic rates approaching 40%.”
And in 2022, Newsweek reported on a study that raised dire warnings about the possibility of climate change decimating hummingbird populations in the future.
Studies have found that hummingbirds are negatively impacted by pesticides. Like bees, hummingbirds are essential pollinators in our world.
A study from the University of Toronto found that hummingbird metabolism is slowing down, and their working theory is that it is caused by pesticide consumption. An overview of the study states, “…hummingbirds may be especially prone to the negative effects of exposure because they encounter the pesticides in a number of ways, including through spraying, eating contaminated insects and, especially, drinking the contaminated nectar of sprayed plants.”
Buff-tailed Bumblebees may be cute, and they do help with pollination, but they are also a threat to hummingbirds in areas where they are invasive.
They are not a hummingbird predator, but when they arrive in an area, they over-consume nectar and outcompete hummingbirds.
This bumblebee species may be responsible for several of the hummingbirds on the endangered lists in South America.
One of the reasons you must always clean your feeder is that hummingbirds can catch diseases from a dirty feeder. Hummingbirds themselves are rarely carriers for diseases, but other birds may visit their feeders, and those birds could carry illnesses.
Additionally, they can become sick from bacteria that grow in dirty bird feeders.
Some of the diseases that hummingbirds have been known to catch are Avian Poxvirus, Candidiasis, and Conjunctivitis.
Protecting Hummingbirds from Extinction
To ensure vibrant, diverse hummingbird populations in the future, we can use targeted conservation tactics.
Preserving intact habitats through reserves and protected public lands will help maintain the ecosystems hummingbirds depend on. Corridors along migration routes and between protected areas also enable hummingbirds to move as needed for breeding and seasonal resources. We can also focus on combating deforestation and regulating development in their key habitat areas.
At home, actions like providing native plants, clean nectar feeders, and safe nesting sites can directly support hummingbirds.
Individuals can protect hummingbirds through strategies like these:
- Offering great nutrition by planting colorful, tubular flowers and nectar-rich plants like coral honeysuckle, columbine, and bee balm
- Putting up feeders with fresh nectar early in the season
- Leaving brush and mulch for nesting spots
- Installing screens on windows to prevent injuries
- Keeping cats indoors
- Reducing pesticide use
- Supporting bird-friendly sustainability practices
On a policy level, groups like the Audubon Society, The American Bird Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy work to designate protected habitats, limit deforestation, and regulate toxic pesticides and herbicides.
Legislative protections like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act make harming hummingbirds and destroying their nests illegal. The MBTA was passed in 1918 and strengthened in later years, creating penalties for harming or harassing protected species. Grants through government agencies and nonprofits enable further research into hummingbird population dynamics, migration patterns, and emerging threats to guide evidence-based conservation plans.
There are many ways to get involved in birdlife conservation!
Hummingbirds & Extinction: Key Takeaways
As pollinators, plant seed dispersers, and predators of insects, hummingbirds play vital ecological roles across ecosystems. They also bring joy to backyard birders, who get to see their beautiful colors and fascinating behaviors.
Even though most species are currently stable, habitat degradation, climate change, and other threats have endangered hummingbird populations over recent decades, especially in South America. However, these extinction risks can be mitigated through habitat conservation, threat reduction, and policy protections!