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  • Jennifer Jewell


Anna's Hummingbird in Northern California Garden, photo by John Whittlesey. All Rights Reserved.


Hummingbirds are a beloved and charismatic creature of the America’s, the more than 350 species of hummingbirds have coevolved with the flora of the Americas for millions of years. For this fourth week in our series of 5 episodes on our gardens as important habitat and we gardeners as important stewards of land and biodiversity, we check in on the state of things for the Hummingbird. Cultivating Place is joined in this by Dr. Susan Wethington, research scientist, Program Developer and Executive Director of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, based in Arizona.

"Hummingbirds are unique in that every culture that lives with hummingbirds has a positive interaction with hummingbirds and it seems to me that if we can maintain hummingbird diversity in this world - because we all love them - then we have a chance to maintain biodiversity in other species that are so critical in our functioning natural world. That if we can let one animal into our hearts - the others can follow."

Dr. Susan Wethington

The hummingbirds are among our smallest of birds, but our largest – and of course avian – pollinators. These little birds, many of which migrate vast distances, need to drink more than their body weight in nectar every day, and are voracious and effective insectivore. Having co-evolved with the native flora of the Americans – including with the vast diversity of salvias, penstemons, lobelia, agastache, manzanitas, honeysuckles and more – they love nothing more than beautiful flowering native or other nectar/pollen rich plants in our gardens to help them on their way.

In our conversation, Susan described the sequence of penstemon bloom in her garden and wanted readers to know that "the correct sequence of blooming is Penstemon parryii, Penstemon pseudospectabilis, and then Penstemon barbatus. I had said barbatus bloomed before pseudospectabilis."

Finally, the Hummingbird Monitoring Network collaborates with groups across the US, Canada, and Mexico. One such collaboration is with the Sonoran Joint Venture / Alianza Regional Sonorense: "a partnership of diverse organizations and individuals from throughout the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico that share a common commitment to the conservation of all bird species and habitats within this range.What do we do? The Sonoran Joint Venture’s mission is to conserve the unique birds and habitats of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. We bring together partners from both sides of the border to integrate the strategies, goals, and objectives of existing regional, national, and international bird conservation plans into a single, strategic effort that addresses the needs of our area."

The SJV published a beautiful article about the Hummingbird Monitoring Network here: Hummingbird Response to Change.

In looking for direction on hummingbird resources, Susan writes: "There are many very good field guides for hummingbirds. The list below are books by people with whom I have worked. It is by no means a complete list:

-Colibries de Mexico y Nortamerica/Hummingbirds of Mexico and North America by Maria del Coro Arizmendi and Humberto Berlanga (this is a bilingual guide)

-North American Hummingbirds, An identification Guide by George C. West

-Do Hummingbirds Hum? By George C. West and Carol A. Butler

-Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest by Marcy Scott

You can follow along with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network at their website: Hummingbird Monitoring Network


Join us again next week when for California Native Plant week we are in conversation with Aaron Sims, the Rare Plant Program Director for the California Native Plant Society who are Celebrating 50 years of the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory and all of its conservation goals met and those we hope to meet. Join us next week – right here.





I've had some fabulous feedback on the habitat series - but how are YOU liking it? I would really love your feedback on this – I like putting series together – linking some of the people I speak with seems to amplify and diversify the message – is this true for you?

And I have learned some great things – in this conversation with Susan, I learned that hummingbirds molt. I did not know that – did you??? I have seed a hummingbird nest – an Anna’s nest. A few times, but given how prevalent they are here, that I have only seen one a handful of times, lets me know how careful and smart they are in their nest protection. To learn too that among the threatened hummingbird species several had never had their nesting materials, locations, behaviors described made my heart sink….which brings me back to the power of this series for me at any rate – the incredible power and agency I see in our gardens makes my heart lift. The more we know, the more we can do….I like that correlation. It’s not always true, but it’s true of our gardening.

If you love Cultivating Place, please share it with others. Tell your friends, your book group, your running club, your carpool - the busy spring gardeners at the nursery. Word of the mouth is the best way and most complimentary way for this podcast to grow.

Thinking out loud here – the website for the The Hummingbird Monitoring Network states that it:

investigates what hummingbirds need to survive, successfully reproduce, and maintain thriving populations through monitoring, education/outreach, research, and habitat restoration/enhancement.

We envision a network of Hummingbird Conservation Communities working together

with reciprocity between people and hummingbirds.

Did you catch that part in our conversation where Susan mentions trying to encourage gardeners to share with each other what plants the hummingbirds are using locally for floral nectar, or even nesting materials, or sites.

She also mentions that they are reaching out to larger land managers – golf courses, farmers, etc. to try to link sites. When she was talking I got this clear vision that we as humans who have single handedly created habitat fragmentation and loss COULD ALSO be the agents of bridging it again – we can help very tangibly with the reunification……I know that’s not a new thought to me – but it hit me in way with her speaking that I really clicked and thought – woah – it’s possible….and if anyone can do it – it’s us….




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