Hummingbirds Taught Me My Validity as a Science Communicator

Post by Maia Hilke

As a third-year Zoology student in Fall 2021, I had some of my first experiences in using my personal scientific efforts to change the world, albeit a small part of it. Throughout my education, I had always been taught about what other people had done to change humanity and nature through their breakthroughs and projects costing millions of dollars. Quite frankly, it’s been overwhelming now that I’m realizing my time of learning is coming to an end and soon I’ll have to start doing it.

Beyond college I’d like to see myself working in endangered avian conservation and public outreach, so when my Scientific Communication course tasked me with addressing a hometown problem associated with my major I eventually landed on a project idea that I felt more than passionate about. Urban Southern California, where I’m from, isn’t exactly known for its diversity of wildlife but there is an abundance of opportunities to improve this. My project idea was to promote planting natural food sources for migrating hummingbirds in safe, suburban or rural areas, and taking down artificial feeders to keep them safe and help the plants depending on them. It seemed straightforward enough.

Alt text: A female Anna's hummingbird hovers next to a cluster of hanging bright red and purple flowers. She feeds from one of the flowers with her beak pointed upwards into it. The background is a blurry light green.
Hummingbirds are important pollinators in our ecosystem and a beautiful part of our everyday lives. Their presence is always noticed and would be sorely missed. Photo by mooninwell.

It turned out that my greatest obstacle was myself. I knew that what I wanted to do could be done. But I didn’t feel like I could do it. I didn’t feel like my own efforts would be valid in the face of what my peers and scientists over the ages had accomplished. Most of all, I didn’t feel like anyone would take me seriously and care about what I was doing.

This is not a good mindset for someone who graduates in 2 semesters to have.

I knew this is what I wanted to dedicate my life to, I knew that I cared and that I could do something to help this issue, but I didn’t know if this was all a delusion. Communicating to even a small audience about something you really care about can be incredibly daunting. More than that, it can be terrifying and for most of the semester, I let that fear control me and tell me that my communication and my efforts were not valid.

Eventually, I mustered up the courage and dove headfirst into my project. My research showed me that other people were interested in my issue and it wasn’t something I had pulled out of thin air. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was learning and thinking about something that mattered, and that I had the power to share this information with others. It was incredibly reassuring to me. Throughout working on the project I finally understood that my work was just as good as anyone else’s. The only thing getting in my way was myself. If the work and the care is there then others will see it.

In general, beginning to think about yourself as an independent researcher, scientist, or even just a human being trying to make any kind of difference is one of the most challenging yet rewarding things to experience. This summer I’m looking forward to taking the last step and finally being able to implement my real project in the real world.


Maia is a third-year student at the University of Wyoming in the Department of Zoology and Physiology with a focus on ornithology and conservation sciences.

references

Bird Advisors. (n.d.). Hummingbirds in California: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.birdadvisors.com/hummingbirds-california/

Cox, D. T. C., & Gaston, K. J. (2016). Urban Bird Feeding: Connecting People with Nature. PLOS ONE, 11(7), e0158717. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158717

Hobbs, S. J., & White, P. C. L. (2015). Achieving positive social outcomes through participatory urban wildlife conservation projects. Wildlife Research, 42(7). https://doi.org/10.1071/WR14184

Turek, C. (2020). How to Make Hummingbird Nectar the Right Way: The Right Sugar and the Right Ratio. In Youtube.com. Youtube.com. https://youtu.be/I_VK_VjNkEQ

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