Sandy is a master hummingbird bander, and licensed to band birds from songbirds to owls. She is a long-time friend of Scott Weidensaul, and has worked with him on banding projects for decades. I met Sandy and her husband Gary at Hog Island, and was lucky enough to be present when she was banding hummingbirds in the afternoon.
What is banding, and how does it help birds?
Banding is a method of applying a numbered aluminum band onto a bird. Banding is a valuable way to gather data about bird migration. It helps scientists track an individual bird by catching it again. Through banding, we can learn about bird populations, life spans, and migration routes.
Bird banding interrupts the life cycle of a bird. Therefore, in order to catch and band birds one must be trained specifically to capture and handle birds, and have a proposal with a specific research question that banding will help answer.
Bird banding has a strict Code of Ethics that all licensed banders adhere to closely. The safety and welfare of bird comes first.
Questions that bird banding helps to answer include:
-How long do they live?
-Do they return to the same area annually?
-How far do they migrate?
We have learned fantastic things about bird migration through the banding and recapture of birds. These insights help us protect valuable habitat, and monitor bird populations worldwide.
How do you catch a hummingbird?
We use traps, specially built to catch hummingbirds safely. This trap is operated using the components from a gutted remote control car. Once the bird flies inside to feed, the remote trigger drops the door shut enclosing the hummingbird inside the cage trap.
Digital calipers are used to measure hummingbirds accurately. Measurements can help the bander determine the sex, many times the male is smaller and his 6th primary is asymmetrically shaped. All measurements are taken in metric units, since data can be shared internationally.
What we've learned through banding hummingbirds:
-The oldest hummingbird is 13+ years old!
-Hummingbirds are extremely faithful to their breeding and feeding sites, and some hummingbirds have been re-captured on the same day each year, after an 845 mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico!
-13 Rufous hummingbirds overwintered in Pennsylvania and survived -36 degree temperatures, and mated the next spring.