Hummers fly north on a wing and a prayer
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And that makes me worry about climate change, a phrase I hesitate to use because of its political volatility. Yet the deleterious effects of climate change have been well documented. It is a scientifically observed phenomenon (look at the aerial photos of the polar ice caps), and it is affecting hummingbirds, the jewels of our Long Island gardens.
The Audubon Society has published climate charts demonstrating that temperatures are warming, sea levels are rising, and hurricanes and other storms have ever greater potential for destroying coastal life. In late summer and early fall, when the hummingbirds fly south, it has been observed that many are now following the Texas coast rather than flying over the gulf. It has been hypothesized that the ones that had the genetic imprint to risk an over-water flight were killed in storms. Also, with generally warmer winters, the birds migrate too soon and get caught in fatal frosts.
Most information about hummingbirds comes from individual observations. Banding birds provides hard facts, but the size of the birds makes banding difficult, and only a few dozen people in North America are licensed to handle hummingbirds.
I write about them because they are a seasonal treasure that we get to see in our own backyards. They are a small but specific example of all the local wildlife that is vulnerable to changes in the environment.
When we talk about climate change, the issues seem so big and unwieldy: We know we must reduce the use of fossil fuels, pressure big polluters like China to create more environmentally safe industries, switch to reusable bags and bottles and drive cars that keep our air clean. It’s easy to throw up our hands at the challenge. Saving the earth seems like a daunting job, but saving our hummingbirds is something to do here and now.
We can live greener lives, and we can support leaders who make the environment a priority.