Sandy (left) and her husband Gary are both licensed bird banders, and led workshops on bird banding this week

Sandy (left) and her husband Gary are both licensed bird banders, and led workshops on bird banding this week


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. 

Gary's specially-made trap to capture hummingbirds safely

Gary's specially-made trap to capture hummingbirds safely

Custom-made laser engraved hummingbird bands. 

Custom-made laser engraved hummingbird bands. 

A Ruby-throated hummingbird is transported from trap to the banding station in a soft mesh bag

A Ruby-throated hummingbird is transported from trap to the banding station in a soft mesh bag

Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

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. 

A closer look after the closed band is secured on the leg of the hummingbird

A closer look after the closed band is secured on the leg of the hummingbird

Data measurements are carefully recorded on paper spreadsheet and later entered electronically into the Bird Banding Lab database

Data measurements are carefully recorded on paper spreadsheet and later entered electronically into the Bird Banding Lab database

Master banders often refer to Pyle's bird banding "bible" to properly age and sex birds in the hand.

Master banders often refer to Pyle's bird banding "bible" to properly age and sex birds in the hand.

A hummingbird is briefly placed on my hand, to feel the heartbeat before release. An actively-feeding hummingbird's heart beats up to 1200 times per minute! 

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.