EDITORIAL: Humming along

Tiny birds need our help reversing falling numbers

Among the many birds and butterflies that migrate through the Rio Grande Valley, we see our share of hummingbirds.

The tiny, colorful and acrobatic birds are popular among dedicated birdwatchers and casual observers.

Unfortunately, as with many other bird types, hummingbird populations have fallen dramatically, and several types have fallen onto endangered species lists.

Like bees and pollinators, hummingbirds have fallen victim to the increase use of pesticides. They pick up any of the poisons that are in the nectar or insects on which they feed or the plants on which they rest. Like many other birds, they also were hurt by a Trump administration reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, an international pact signed to protect birds that migrate across international borders — including hummingbirds.

Fortunately, that damage no longer should be done.

The administration in 2017 issued a revision of the MBTA, stating that it only applied to the intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” deaths.

This month, however, U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni of the Southern District of New York invalidated the change. Caproni noted that the treaty prohibits killing of birds “by any means whatever or in any manner.”

While the change helps, hummingbirds, which are among the most delicate species, remain at risk. Fortunately, their popularity inspires many homeowners to attract the little creatures by planting flowers and fruits or hang specialized feeders to bring them close.

Unfortunately, without proper care those steps inadvertently can hurt instead of help the little birds.

The Audubon Society and other advocates offer tips for those who wish to attract hummingbirds or simply improve their chances of survival: 1. If possible, place flowering plants throughout the yard where the birds can feed and perch. Try to keep them safe from predators, however.

2. Limit the use of pesticides. This not only applies to plants but to any poisons that are used in the home.

Hummingbirds eat insects and will ingest any chemical with which they come in contact.

3. If you hang hummingbird feeders, put out a few and place them far apart so that the birds don’t compete for the same spot. A simple solution of one part white sugar to four parts water will feed them. 4. Change the solution frequently.

Mold and bacteria can grow in the sugar or it can ferment, especially in the South Texas heat.

To be safe, change the solution every other day or whenever it gets cloudy, and periodically clean the feeder with a weak bleach solution.

5. Keep feeders away from windows. Birds don’t know that the foliage they see in the panes are reflections and not real trees, and they fly toward them.

6. Any old bananas or other fruit that won’t be eaten can be hung near a feeder rather than discarded. They attract fruit flies that are a good protein source for hummingbirds.

The little winged wonders are among the many benefits of living in the Rio Grande Valley. A few simple steps can help their populations rebound and benefit our region for years to come.