If you feed them, they will come.
At least, Oregon State University researchers are hoping that’s the case with area hummingbirds. The university has tapped fourth-graders at Timber Ridge School, among students at other mid-valley schools, to hang feeders to help researchers collect data.
Timber Ridge science teacher Cindy Drouhard said she received an email about the project several weeks ago. She and the students’ homeroom teacher, Jen Murray, both thought a “real-world science project” would be a great experience for the fourth-graders, who will use the data for a science work sample required by the state.
Todd Bertwelt, an undergraduate in OSU’s College of Forestry, came to Timber Ridge in late April to explain the project. He brought several bird feeders and talked to the fourth-graders about where and how to hang them.
Like bees, hummingbirds go from flower to flower, pollinating the plants as they feed. “That’s how new plants are formed,” Bertwelt told the class.
The research project is all about discovering where hummingbirds like best to live, Bertwelt said. “We’re asking for your help to find out how we can better manage their habitat.”
For the remainder of the month, students will monitor feeders every two days, both at home and at school. Among other things, they will record where they put the feeder, the types of plants and flowers around it, the birds they see and how often they see them, and how much hummingbird nectar has been consumed.
For their own class science projects, the fourth-graders came up with hypotheses of where they expect hummingbirds to spend more time. “Most are either comparing feeders mostly in the sun versus feeders mostly in the shade, or feeders near zero or few flowering plants versus feeders near many flowering plants,” Drouhard said.
The work is funded through a National Science Foundation grant received by Assistant Professor Matt Betts in OSU’s Forest Ecosystem Society department. Betts is researching the causes of what’s being called a global “pollination crisis,” using information gathered by attaching tiny tracking devices to hummingbirds in the forests of Costa Rica.
The Oregon Natural Resources Education Program at OSU is working with Betts in involving the younger students. In addition to the Timber Ridge fourth-graders, students at Central and South Shore elementary schools in Albany, Philomath Elementary, and Garfield and Waldorf schools in Corvallis are taking part.
Druhard said her students have been thrilled to be involved and are learning to distinguish the slight differences between the two most commonly sighted hummingbirds in the mid-valley, the Rufous and the Anna’s.
“Every day I’ve been getting reports of hummingbird sightings at their home feeders, and they are even able to ID them,” she said.