B.C. researchers request hummingbird poop to help measure planet's health

·2 min read
Researchers say hummingbirds may help them measure one of the indicators of a healthy planet. (Submitted by Andrew Hurly - image credit)
Researchers say hummingbirds may help them measure one of the indicators of a healthy planet. (Submitted by Andrew Hurly - image credit)

B.C. researchers are asking the public to send in feces from hummingbirds to determine their health which they say could help measure one of the indicators of a healthy planet.

They're also asking those who are able to send in any hummingbird feces they collect.

"It sounds like a strange thing, but we have sparked this investigation of hummingbirds because they are such great pollinators," said Lisa Wood, an associate professor and researcher at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Wood says they are looking into the interactions of pollinators and plants that have been sprayed with glyphosate-based herbicides in forests.

These are some of the most widely used herbicides in the world and in B.C., they are used to encourage the growth of coniferous trees, often at the expense of other plants.

Noticing changes to plants

Wood says they have been noticing changes to plants years after the herbicides were used, including changes to the flower colour and the availability of pollen.

"We're seeing reductions of up to 66 per cent in how viable the pollen is. And it just kind of got us thinking about pollinators," Wood told host Carolina De Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North.

She says they have found residues of the actual glyphosate compound in the plant material years later.

Lisa Wood with the University of Northern British Columbia is conducting research into the impact of glyphosate-based herbicide use in northern forests.
Lisa Wood with the University of Northern British Columbia is conducting research into the impact of glyphosate-based herbicide use in northern forests.(University of Northern British Columbia)

"Because that compound is there, we're wondering if it could potentially be transferred up the food chain. And because glyphosate is a water soluble compound, we have to look in urine and poop of the pollinator species to see if it's there."

Wood says she is working with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory on Vancouver Island to collect the samples.

Seeking the public's help

Valerie Crowley, a volunteer with the observatory, is hoping people can help by sending in any hummingbird poop they find. She says the best way to collect the samples is to place plastic film underneath a bird feeder, so it catches the feces.

"They can just fold [the plastic] up, put it into a Ziploc bag with the date on it and put it in their freezer," Crowley said.

Wood says the samples will be sent to the University of Guelph for chemical analysis. She says anyone in B.C. who would be willing to collect samples to aid in the research should contact her or the Rocky Point Bird Observatory.

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