The Rufous Hummingbird has lost two-thirds of its population since 1970.
CNN  — 

The Rufous Hummingbird is magical. The male’s iridescent throat glows brighter than a shiny copper penny and like most hummingbirds, whizzes through the air curiously hovering right in front of humans who ponder them. The first time Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy, saw one, it was feeding on blossoms of a lemon tree in California.

“It was just one of those other-worldly sites. It was almost like a religious experience,” says Parr with awe and reverence.

“When they just turn their head and suddenly their throat catches the light – it lights up with this amazing color. It’s just magical, really. It just lights up like a beacon.”

They are one of the smallest hummingbirds at just over 3 inches long- but one of the feistiest.

They fly an astonishing 3,900 miles (one-way) from Alaska where they live in the summer to Mexico- one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world compared to its body size, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Californians enjoy them in the spring and Rocky Mountain residents in the fall as the birds feed on flower nectar and tiny insects in high mountain meadows, backyard flowers and hummingbird feeders.

But the Rufous hummingbird, like hundreds of other species, is teetering on the edge.

Birds are the “canary in a coal mine”

The Rufous hummingbird lost two-thirds of its population since 1970, according to the 2022 State of the Birds report.

These tiny creatures are one of 70 bird species on the “Tipping Point” list that will lose another fifty percent of their populations in the same time frame if conservation doesn’t improve. That list includes such flying beauties as the Golden-winged warbler with its stunning yellow cap and black mask.

The Golden-winged Warbler searches for caterpillars, moths and spiders to feed on. The bird has had one of the steepest population declines of any songbird - a 66% reduction since 1966.

The reasons, scientists say, are multi-fold: habitat loss from climate change and human development, glass collisions, invasive species (domestic cats) and pesticides; many of the same reasons all wildlife globally have plummeted.

So why should we care that birds are disappearing? One reason, says Parr, is their losses are a harbinger of what human beings face too.

“Birds are the canary in the coal mine,” says Parr. “We’re seeing evidence of some ecological collapse in North America as evidenced by loss of birds.”

Birds rely on nature just as we do – for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, says Parr. As they lose habitat- from large stands of native forest, to open meadows, wetlands and marshes –we too are losing those resources.

Ten of 70 bird species that lost more than half their populations since 1970 and are predicted to lose 50% more within the next five decades.

“So as things start to unravel, if biological diversity and climate change both unravel simultaneously, the natural world around us that we depend on so much may not be as dependable as we’d like it to be.”

A second reason- birds are essential to our ecosystem. They pollinate flowers and disperse seeds. They eat insects and rodents keeping those populations in check.

Third, they are just beautiful- filling our sky with bird song although a little less every year.

“We don’t want to see birds disappear. So, rather than waiting until the last second, from a conservationist point of view- you just don’t want to see the bird get there in the first place,” Parr says.

“Unfortunately, wildlife doesn’t have its own voice.”

Things you can do to help save birds from extinction

Problem: Glass collisions

Solution: Decals or bird-friendly glass

Nearly 1 billion birds die every year in the United States due to collisions with glass. Birds see a reflection of sky and trees and think it’s habitat they can fly into. Birds not only hit high-rise office buildings but home windows as well. In fact, nearly half of all collisions occur at home windows according to the American Bird Conservancy. Collisions are most frequent during spring and especially fall migration but happen year-round.

The good news is there are ways to prevent these deaths. You can add see-through decals that are peel-on/peel-off, to your windows. Most reflect ultraviolet light- which we can’t see but really stands out for most birds. You don’t necessarily need to put them on all your windows, says Parr. “You can usually identify the windows which are the most problematic.” The American Bird Conservancy has labs which have tested products and deemed them bird-friendly.

Also if you are building a new home or having windows installed, you can install bird-safe glass. Many birding groups are working at the national level to promote bird-friendly building designs and “lights-out” nights during high migration periods.

Problem: Pesticides / habitat-poor lawns

Solutions: Organic gardening, planting native vegetation, setting aside wild areas

Many birds eat insects, but a huge die-out of insect populations worldwide is making food scarcer. Parr says instead of pesticides and herbicides, let birds do their job to eat insects and grass seed in your garden.

“Birds are pretty good pesticides,” says Parr. “They eat a lot of insects. Encourage birds.”

On a larger scale, conservation groups are fighting the use of neonicotinoids or “neonics” – a pesticide used not only on crops but engineered into seeds and used in some backyard plants.

“It’s preventing birds from feeding. If a bird eats the seed, there can be enough on there to actually poison the bird directly. But the bigger effect is the lack of insects.” Parr says it’s important to look at labels when buying products for your lawn or ask landscape companies what’s in the products they use.