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Laboratory of Holly Ernest



Hummingbird genomics and disease ecology

Lab researchers: Braden Godwin, Holly Ernest

photo by Mark Gocke

Examining age of hummingbird. Photo by Jessica Grant

Hummingbird Health Program

Dr. Holly Ernest and UW Ecology PhD candidate Braden Godwin launched the Hummingbird Health Program summer 2015 in Wyoming and Colorado.  Dr. Ernest started the Hummingbird Health Program in California in 2008 at University of California, Davis, and has now brought this examination of hummingbird diseases, population genetics, and ecology to the Rocky Mountain West.

Hummingbirds provide vital functions to natural areas, including pollination and insectivory. As ecosystem sentinels, they travel rapidly and widely from flower to flower and prey on thousands of tiny insects. Even more special is that they are stunningly beautiful birds, with bright iridescent colors. We need to learn their population numbers, biology, and health status in order to better conserve them. There are currently very few data on diseases, population health, genetic diversity and population structure for the hummingbird species breeding and migrating through Wyoming, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain region, and the Hummingbird Health Program is helping to change that.

We developed genomic population genetic markers (SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphism loci) that can now differentiate the hummingbird species that breed and travel through Wyoming. Identification of “populations and species at risk” is vital for disease analyses. The genetics work helps identify what a functional “population” is within each of the species, and is vital to disease monitoring and assessment work.

Collaborators include Dr. Lisa Tell (UC Davis), Dr. Ravinder Sehgal (San Francisco State University), Andy Engilis (UC Davis), Dr. Bob Poppenga (UC Davis), the Hummingbird Monitoring Program, and others.

In the news:

Buffalo Bulletin screenshotFeatured in the Buffalo Bulletin:
Hummingbird Health
by Jen Sieve-Hicks | Download PDF of the article

Rockies Audubon screenshotFeatured in Rockies Audubon:
Lab member is “Habitat Hero”: Brady Godwin guest blogs for Rockies Audubon about hummingbirds, looks for feeders to band at
by Brady Godwin

Featured in the Laramie Boomerang:
Read about PhD student Brady Godwin studying hummingbird health
by Eve Newman


Wyoming Game and Fish
Hummingbird Health Check article
by Mark Gocke

Small Wonders ArticleWyoming Wildlife Magazine
Article “Small Wonders” by
Amber Leberman &  Jessica Grant | Subscribe to Wyoming Wildlife!

Brady gently capturing hummingbird for health exam. Photo by Mark Gocke

Brady gently capturing hummingbird for health exam. Photo by Mark Gocke

Conservation Genomics and Development of New DNA Tools

Using next-generation DNA sequencing and genomic research techniques, geographic information systems (GIS) to map locations, field identifications and health exams of individual birds, we are examining population biology and hummingbird health. So little is known about hummingbird ecology, diseases, and population numbers, this information is vital to determine which hummingbird species or populations are declining.

Braden Godwin (Brady) is focusing his PhD research on two species (Allen’s Hummingbird along Pacific coastal California, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird in the Rocky Mountain West).  Brady is using conservation genomic tools as well as field work and studies of environmental contaminants to determine population health and identify key problems important to hummingbird conservation.

  • Molecular Sex Identification Markers for Five North American Hummingbird Species. In press. 2016. Hagadorn KA, Tell LA, Drazenovich TL, HB Ernest. Conservation Genetics Resources.

Rufous Hummingbird; photo by VickiMiller

Our Publications on Hummingbird Disease Ecology and Genetics

Anna's Hbird Male photo by ManfredKusch

Get involved with hummingbird field research

Do you have busy hummingbird feeders? We’re looking for sites to study hummingbirds in Wyoming and Colorado and would love to hear from you. Email us at

If you see any abnormal or sick hummingbirds, send in a picture and any information you have.

More opportunities coming soon, including hummingbird feeder watch.

Hummingbird resources: