A new garden at this year's Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival invites guests not only to learn about a popular species of birds, but also to participate in a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon.
Hummingbirds at Home, which is located behind Mouse Gear in Future World, is a walk-though garden presented by Audubon that features Ruby-Red Penta, Coral Honeysuckle, Firebush, Cigar and Salvia plants.
Naturalist Don Kendzior explained to participants on a recent media preview of the garden that there is a strong need for hummingbird conservation because of climate changes. "There is the mismatch between when the flowers are blooming and when the hummingbirds arrive in their breeding range," he said. "North America is the breeding range for hummingbirds, and Central Florida is [the area] for the Ruby-throated [hummingbirds]. They are arriving, but the plants that they need when they arrive are out of bloom."
Audubon scientists hope that with the help of residents throughout North America, they can collect data on how hummingbirds may be affected by changing flowering patterns. To this end, the Hummingbirds at Home garden at Epcot shows guests how they can create gardens -- container or traditional patches -- to attract the hummingbirds. Plus, guests can learn how to identify the most common hummingbirds in the United States and get migration updates.
"What's really exciting is the festival correlates with the migration of the Ruby-throated hummingbird. They actually arrive this week [Feb. 28], and they will migrate north for the duration of the festival. When the festival concludes, they will have reached their northern points in Canada," Kendzior said. "We had the first sighting here just north of the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday [Feb. 25]. The males are coming right now. They usually are followed in two weeks by the females. And then they immediately start getting territory for their breed space."
These hummingbirds take a 20-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan, so it could be a 2,000-mile migration, he said. Audubon officials are hoping for a breeding pair in the gardens.
Hummingbirds usually weigh between 2 and 5 grams -- about the weight of a couple of pennies, Kendzior said.
Don't mistake the tall white birdhouses in the garden for hummingbird homes, though. They're actually the residences of purple marlins because hummingbirds build nests in trees.
It's's rare to see a hummingbird nest because their small size makes them difficult to spot in a tree. However, Kendzior has one to display at the festival. It was found on the ground in DeLand after a storm last year. "The female will usually raise two nestlings in there. The eggs are about the size of a pea. She makes this nest out of spider webs and lichens so it expands. This is what it looks like after it expands and the nestlings pushed it out. When she first made it, it was much smaller and tighter in."
Guests are invited to participate in the Hummingbirds at Home citizen science project by visiting the garden at Epcot or Audubon.org/hummingbird for more details. Kendzior will be in the garden intermittently to talk with guests, and he also will give presentations at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. March 15 at the Greenhouse Stage in the Festival Center. In addition, Kendzior will talk about gardening with nature at noon and 3 p.m. March 17 and April 7 and 14 in the Festival Center.
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