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Hummingbird exposure to pesticides

Many have responded to the campaigns to stop the use of pesticides killing bees.  Bees are not the only animals affected.

Hummingbirds are noted as a species of conservation concern by Partners in Flight, and their populations are estimated to have declined by 60% between 1970 and 2014.

Rufous hummingbird about to feed
Credit: Johnathan Moran


New research reveals that hummingbirds and bumble bees are being exposed to neonicotinoid and other pesticides through routes that are widespread and complex. The findings are published in Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

To measure exposure to pesticides in these avian pollinators, investigators made novel use of cloacal fluid and fecal pellets from hummingbirds living near blueberry fields in British Columbia. They also collected bumble bees native to Canada, and their pollen, and blueberry leaves and flowers from within conventionally sprayed and organic blueberry farms.

The researchers detected pesticides and related compounds in cloacal fluid and fecal pellets of hummingbirds revealing for the first time that hummingbirds are exposed to and accumulate pesticide exposures of multiple types. In addition, bumble bees, their pollen, and blueberry flowers contained pesticides, with the highest concentration of the insecticide imidacloprid in pollen from organic farms.

The lethal and sublethal effects of neonicotinoids and other pesticides to bee species have been widely researched and documented.  This is the first study to demonstrate the exposure of hummingbirds to these pesticides.

“Hummingbirds and bumble bees are important pollinators of wild and agricultural plants and they survive each day on a razor’s edge due to their high energy needs,” said lead author Dr. Christine Bishop, of Environment and Climate Change Canada. “Pesticide exposure in these animals may have impacts on their health and the ecosystem services they provide to humans and wildlife.”

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