Banding is not harmful to birds, and the bands can stay on the birds for the duration of their life. Hummingbird bands provide researchers and ornithologists with informations about a birds migratory pattern, activity, and overall lifespan.
Bird banding has been happening for decades. Through hummingbird banding, researchers have been able to collect information about hummingbird species, their ranges, what habitats they visit, and how long they travel and live.
What is hummingbird banding, and how does it work? Read on to learn how scientists track and study these tiny birds.
Table of Contents
What Is Hummingbird Banding?
Hummingbird banding involves affixing a tiny band around a hummingbird’s leg. Each band contains one letter followed by a unique five-digit number—that’s all there’s room for since the birds are so tiny. This identifying band number allows researchers to gain general information about each bird and the hummingbird species.
Why Are Hummingbirds Banded?
To learn about any species, it should be observed and studied. Hummingbirds are banded so researchers can learn about their migratory patterns, feeding habits, colorings, breeding habits, and how long they live.
Learning about hummingbirds helps teach us not only about these birds specifically but also about their surrounding environment in which they live. Studying hummingbird patterns and activity can shed light on changes in certain regions as well as how their populations are affecting nectar-producing plant life.
Who Can Band Hummingbirds?
Only licensed banders can place bands on hummingbirds. These professionals must be trained appropriately and have a permit from the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL). Typically, these permits are given to individuals associated with a school or organization with an ornithological department.
Becoming a licensed bander requires training from a professional bander. All apprentices must learn about every hummingbird species that comes to their area.
Each bander-in-training must also learn how to band hummers, organize the data, and communicate with the BBL. Banding hummingbirds is such a specialized process that in the US, only 150 and 200 individuals are licensed to band hummingbirds.
How Small Is the Band?
Since hummers are so small, hummingbird bands are incredibly tiny. Bird banding criteria mandates that the band cannot be larger than 3-5% of the bird’s body weight. Since hummers generally weigh 3.5 grams on average, a hummingbird band weighs .001 gram.
Because the bands are so tiny, hummingbirds are not bothered by them. The feel of a band for a hummingbird can be compared to when we wear bracelets or other light jewelry. The band does not interfere with any regular hummingbird activity.
How Do They Catch And Band Hummingbirds?
Banders make the banding process as easy and stress-free as possible. Here’s how it works:
- Researchers attract the hummers by setting out nectar feeders inside mesh traps. When a hummer enters the feeding area, it trips a switch, and a mesh curtain lowers, entrapping them in the mesh area.
- The trained banding technicians gently pick up the hummingbird and measure its wings, tail feathers, and body size.
- They wrap the hummer in a mesh cloth and record its weight. This process is done extremely quickly so as not to stress out the bird.
- Researches observe chest size and body fat ratio by blowing a small puff of air through a straw across the hummingbird’s body
- Lastly, they place the band around the hummingbird’s leg.
- Before releasing the hummingbird, they feed it more sugar water.
What Do Banders Do With The Data?
After recording and organizing data from each hummingbird, hummingbird banders share the information with the BBL (Bird Banding Laboratory), a division of The US Geological Service (USGS).
The BBL also shares the information with the Bird Banding Office (BBO) at the Canadian Wildlife Office, and together they collaborate with the North American Bird Banding Program (NABBP). The BBL shares data with the original banner if a banded hummingbird is recaptured at another banding site. This helps document the hummer’s ranges, migration patterns, and other behavior.
Banders Communicate With Each Other
Banders have their own internet forum, Humband (only for licensed banders!). As they share data with the official organizations, banders also share band numbers of birds they have recently captured. The site allows banders to keep even better tabs on birds that have been through their banding stations.
Additional Benefits of Banding Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds have been banded only recently in comparison to other songbirds. The NABBP has records on 309,000 hummers since 1960, but they have records of 30 million songbirds in that same time. Scientists still have a lot of information to gather on hummingbirds!
Banding birds is the best way to learn about these small but incredibly beautiful species. Through banding, researchers learn about:
One of the most extensive areas of study has been hummingbird migration. Through banding, scientists have learned that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has the same migration route from year to year.
These hummers even show up at their stopover points on almost the same day each year. A study on Rufous hummingbirds helped researchers learn about their migration patterns through California. They discovered that the males and females migrated separately.
Overall Species Health
Banding hummingbirds help provide meaningful data for typical hummer size, weight, and characteristics. By learning what a typical hummingbird of each species should look and act like, researchers can better measure how the hummingbird species as a whole is doing.
Feeding And Breeding Habits
Through banding, researchers learn about specific feeding habits. Though once thought to never stop moving, through further study, we now know that hummers perch on branches of feeders often. They sit on available perches while feeding but can also hover and eat from their food source.
Banding helps researchers learn what flowers, insects, and other food sources hummers use since they know their frequent areas. Banding also helps confirm when birds arrive to breed and which routes they use for travel. It confirms how long they stay in each area and when each species arrives for the season.
Characteristics Of Each Variety Of Hummingbird
There are over 320 recorded varieties of hummingbirds. Through banding, researchers have been able to study numerous species of hummingbirds and learn the about the characteristics and behaviors they exhibit. Banding also helps identify any new species scientists aren’t aware of yet!
How Long Hummers Live
Hummers live, on average, 3-5 years. Through banding, researchers can keep track of each bird’s lifespan. Knowing on average how long hummers live helps researchers make sure the hummers they band stay healthy and live as expected.
Where Are The US Banding Locations?
Banding locations are set up in areas that see the most hummingbirds. Thousands of hummers pass over the Gulf Coast while migrating, consequently there is a banding station in Alabama called the Fort Morgan Banding Station.
Another hotspot for hummingbirds is Arizona, with the southeast part of the state hosting the most diverse population of hummers north of Mexico. Arizona is home to the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
Volunteers work with licensed banders to track the usual visitors like the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and their migration patterns. They also follow plenty of migrants heading north and west from Mexico. There are banding stations in most US states and into Canada that help identify and study hummers.
Because trained professionals band hummingbirds, the banding process is as stress-free as possible and does little harm to the birds, if any. Researchers can learn about hummingbirds and their role in the environment through banding.