Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Super Saturday Adventure!

                                  Clyde Kessler writes:
        November 17, Melanie Fox invited us over to her home in 
             Radford to watch the banding of two hummingbirds. A week 
      earlier she had emailed me photos she had taken of two 
        hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder in her front yard.

                                        Mel had also told me that during the cold spell that had 
                                     started a few days early, the feeder’s nectar (sugar water) 
                                        would partially freeze up. So she started bringing the 
                                        feeder in at night. She would put the feeder out early 
                                       before sunrise, because the hummingbirds would show 
                                                  up at first light looking for their breakfast.

                                              Odds were that the two unidentified hummingbirds 
                                   visiting the feeder in front of Mel’s house would be 
                                   Rufous Hummingbirds, the most common late fall
                                   migrant and wintering hummingbirds in the         
                                   eastern US. And since they appeared to be 
                                   immature hummers, they might also be hatch-year 
                                   Allen’s Hummingbirds. It was also possible that the  
                                   greener one that visited much less frequently 
                                   than the rufous, or chestnut-colored one did, 
                                   could be a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. 
                                              So our anticipation grew 
                                        as we awaited Bruce’s arrival.

                                    He got to Mel’s home right on time. We had already 
                              been treated to a couple of quick flurries of hummingbird 
                                   activity. Stan Bentley was there taking pictures, as was 
                                  Nancy Kent. Mel and family were outside, too, watching. 
                                                     A bit later so were a few neighbors, 
                                    curious and then excited about what was happening.

                                         Stan has traveled out to the western states many 
                                        times, and has seen these species of hummingbirds 
                                       several times before. I have seen a couple of Rufous 
                                       Hummingbirds over the years in Virginia, but never
                                       two in one day. That number in Virginia visiting at one
                                                   feeder was really close to a miracle, 
                                                     at least it seemed that way to me.

                                      Earlier that morning, Bruce Peterjohn 
                                        had already banded a hummer near Blacksburg. 
                                     That one turned out to be an adult Rufous Hummingbird. 
                                    He also told us that there were two other unidentified
                                    hummers coming to feeders in Christiansburg, but he 
                                    didn’t have the address of the homeowners. Those 
                                     would remain mystery hummers, at least for that day.

                                            Bruce set up his hummingbird trap in only 
                                             a few moments. The effort to catch and 
                                          band the mystery hummingbirds became 
                                          a bit like a fishing expedition, with the nectar 
                                      in the hummingbird feeder functioning as bait. 
                                        The hummingbird feeder was placed inside  
                                        the trap and a door to the cage was open. 
                                      Bruce kept the trap door open by fishing line 
                                             that he held spooled out from a distance 
                                                         of 15 or so feet from the cage.

                                         In just a few short minutes, one of the hummers 
                                        flew into the cage. Bruce let the cage door close, 
                                       then expertly caught the little guy in his gloved hand. 

                                          He took the hummer over to the back of his 
                                          vehicle where he had all sort of equipment for 
                                                      measuring and banding it. 

                                     Before the trap had been set up, Bruce had shown 
                                    us the tiny numbered aluminum bands that he gently 
                                                 places on a tiny leg to identify the bird. 

                                        He had to prepare the bands by cutting them 
                                        from a printed aluminum sheet and crimping 
                                        them around a band holder. The bands must 
                                           be smooth and light-weight so that they do 
                                                       not restrict the bird's movement. 

                                       While the banding was proceeding, I held the spool 
                                        of fishing line to keep the cage door open in case 
                                          the other hummer came in to visit the feeder in 
                                          the cage. I was never any good at fishing, so 
                                         during the time I kept the cage door open and 
                                              ready, the little hummer never appeared. 

                                           After the hummer was recorded and banded, 
                                            Bruce delicately placed the little creature on 
                                                  Melanie's hand for her to release it. 
                                                   With probable relief, it flew away. 

                                          Of course shortly after Bruce had banded and 
                                        released the hatch-year male, and had taken the 
                                        fishing line from me, hummer number two flew into
                                              the cage. He deftly caught this little one, too. 


                                       Bruce weighed the tiny creature - about 3 grams, 
                                  I think. (An average paperclip weighs about 1 gram!) 
                                       He measured the length of its feathers and recorded 
                                    the information with the band number.The 2nd hummer
                                                  turned out to be a hatch-year female.

                                   When Bruce left us, he was heading to Franklin County 
                                   to band yet another hummingbird. He was successful 
                                   in capturing and banding this one--it was a hatch-year 
                                  female. So that’s a tally of four Rufous Hummingbirds 
                                        (Selasphorus rufus) in Virginia one day.

                                   Some Rufous Hummingbird facts:
                                   The Rufous Hummingbird nests further north than any other 
                                   species of hummingbird (61° N).

                                    Breeding range is from Prince William Sound, 
                                         Alaska to northern California.

                                      It has a very short nesting season in Alaska
                                   -shorter than for any other species of hummingbird.

                                       There are more and more records of this species 
                                     wintering in the eastern US. Perhaps one reason for 
                                     the increase in sightings is the increase in the number 
                                        of hummingbird feeders. This fact alone likely 
                                     helps with their survival. Bruce told us that Rufous 
                                    Hummingbirds are able to endure several days and 
                                            nights in a row of sub-freezing weather.

                                       Bruce Peterjohn works at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife 
                                       Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. He is the Chief 
                                         of the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL). He 
                                         coordinates bird banding activities throughout the 
                                                  United States and also U.S. Territories.

                                        He also volunteers with the Hummer/Bird Study Group, 
                                         and bands hummingbirds in Maryland, Delaware, and 
                                        Virginia. HBSG has documented fourteen species of 
                                         hummingbirds in the eastern US.

                                         To learn more about HBSG, visit their website:

                                           And to find out more about the 
                                            USGS Bird Banding Lab, visit:

                                 Photos ©N. Kent unless otherwise noted

1 comment:

  1. Well, that was fun! Several years ago we had two Rufous Hummers in our at Glen Eller's and one here at my house. George and Martha Sargent came up from Alabama to band these birds. Ours stuck around until January, and then on a very cold morning, it disappeared. We were worried, of course.
    A year later that same hummer was recaptured in NC, much to our relief.