Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Hummingbird partners connect in Alaska

Two women making some plans
Sarahy and Kate McLaughlin banding in Cordova, Alaska. USDA Forest Service photo by Cheryl Carrothers.

ALASKA – A collaborative effort that got its start ten years ago, recently experienced some much needed wind under its wings.

The Western Hummingbird Partnership, established by the USDA Forest Service in 2009, was created to connect students, professors, managers and scientists to share their knowledge, resources and new ideas for the conservation of hummingbirds and their important habitats.

Two of the Partnership’s founding members, Sarahy Contreras Martinez, a professor at the University of Guadalajara, and Cheryl Carrothers, the Alaska Region Wildlife Program Manager made a critical linking in June 2019, when they met for the first time in Alaska and together witnessed Alaska’s Rufous hummingbirds in the birds’ most northern breeding habitat.

Martinez has been banding and studying hummingbirds for over 25 years, focusing on fire impacts, ecological succession and habitat needs. Having the opportunity to experience the Rufous in Alaska was a dream come true for her. “The Rufous hummingbirds are also known as the Jewels of the Forest,” offered Martinez. “And I think you can see why they are called that. It’s an amazing, colorful and resilient creature that travels an extensive and sometimes arduous migratory path yearly from Mexico to Alaska.”

Hummingbird habitats in both Alaska and Mexico have a lot in common: similar temperate forests, flowers and humidity, where the hummingbirds are important pollinators helping to sustain the forests’ ecosystems.

Carrothers planned a whirlwind itinerary for Martinez’s first trip to the Tongass and Chugach National Forests including visits to small communities, attendance at a migratory bird festival, participation in bird banding, and meetings with local migratory bird experts and partners. “When I think of her journey to Alaska this summer, I am reminded of the long journey of the Jewels to our Alaskan forests.” added Carrothers.

As common as they seem, there is still a lot to learn about hummingbirds and there’s concern today that the Jewels of the Forest populations are declining. In response, the Partnership is expected to continue researching to determine if there’s a significant reduction in numbers, if migration paths are indeed changing from fire impacts, and to continue to look for ways to help protect the birds’ habitat along the migratory path that happened to connect Mexico and Martinez with Alaska and Carrothers.

For additional information on the Western Hummingbird Partnership, please visit the website at https://westernhummingbird.org.

Alasakan hummingbird
Rufous hummingbird in the Tongass National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Cheryl Carrothers.
Group photo
Sarahy, Cheryl, Jim Chu, Gwen Baluss, and Janelle Lopez visit Harlequin Lake in Yakutat as part of the Western Hummingbird Partnership’s Alaska visit. USDA Forest Service photo by Cheryl Carrothers.