Movin’ out: Little bird, big trend

By Kristi Luther

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Marcos Mendez misses one of his favorite hummingbirds.

The fiery-throated hummingbird has been traveling upslope for years, possibly as a result of climate change.

The fiery-throated hummingbird has been traveling upslope for years, possibly as a result of climate change. Photo via Flickr/The.Rohit

Mendez, a freelance tour guide in Monteverde, frequently leads groups of curious tourists through the cloud forest reserve.

He used to see the fiery-throated hummingbird regularly. Each glistening bird is adorned with a rainbow of colors; a green body and blue head are accented by the signature golden-red colors on the bird’s throat.

But for the past eight years, Mendez has come up empty.

 “I would be surprised if any of the other guides are seeing them often,” Mendez said.

With the threat of climate change looming, Mendez said he worries that animals in the cloud forest will eventually have nowhere to go as they recede to more ideal climates.

The fiery-throated hummingbird is a prime example. A case study in Climate Change and Biodiversity points out that fiery-throated hummingbirds (panterpe insignis), among other animals, have “retreated upslope since the early 1980s.”

But the multi-colored gems of the forest can only travel so far to their preferred climate until they run out of time and space.

The change in the hummingbirds is not the only change Mendez has seen that he thinks points toward climate change.

“Sometimes it’s not strictly global warming, but fungus in the water is transmitting more quickly, though, because of global warming,” Mendez said.

He is not the only one noticing changes.

While their hummingbird counterparts move to higher altitudes, the keel-billed toucan has also had this tendency. Both birds continuously seek an ideal climate.

While their hummingbird counterparts move to higher altitudes, the keel-billed toucan has also had this tendency. Both birds continuously seek an ideal climate. Photo via Flickr/Sibylle Stofer

Meanwhile, farther south, various toucans seem to be moving up and out of their

typical habitats, making their homes in areas such as Monteverde and Guacimal.

Veronica Sheehan of Guacimal said she has noticed an increase in toucans in her area.

She often leaves bananas out for the birds because she said knows their forests have been widely cut down.

“We are just giving and sharing a little bit,”she said.

Veronica Sheehan still insists on putting out bananas for the toucans, although visitors often question her about it. She said she is sharing with them because she knows their forests have been cut down and changed. Photo by Margaux Henquinet.

Veronica Sheehan still insists on putting out bananas for the toucans, although visitors often question her about it. Photo by Margaux Henquinet.

Specific observations of possible climate change also reach down to the dry forests of Santa Rosa National Park.

Ants are an indicator for those who know the park inside and out.

“The soil determines their habitat in a way,” said assistant Johan Martinez Navarrete of the park’s ecotourism program. “We are seeing ants that didn’t used to be there.”

Whether it’s for the prismatic fiery-throated hummingbird soaring from flower to flower in the cloud forest or a tiny ant crawling across the soil of the dry forest, the natural habitats of specific animals seem to be changing.

And if their conditions keep warming, perhaps they will keep packing their bags and moving out.

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