That signature buzzing a/k/a humming wings and the flash of iridescence darting in and out of my salvias, red yucca, and agastache (hummingbird mint) provides endless entertainment while sipping a cup of coffee in the morning. Living helicopters which are extremely aggressive, these little birds are amazing creatures. Because we live directly on a super highway of migration, thanks to the San Pedro River, we are treated to all sorts of unique bird visitors. On our hikes in the mountains or just watching our feeders we've identified the Rufous, Broad-bill, Broad-tail, Magnificent, Black-chinned, Costa's, and Anna's hummingbirds. Interestingly, we have no Ruby-throated hummers in Arizona. That particular bird is the only one who migrates from Mexico to east of the Mississippi. The rest prefer western climes.
The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) does excellent work in recording data that helps us understand more about these flying jewels. Over the course of the summer, SABO conducts weekly hummingbird banding in several different areas around Casa Wallace. I joined the banding party this week at the Casa de San Pedro B & B to watch the experienced volunteers do the work of collecting valuable data on the hummers. I was privileged to meet Sheri Williamson who is licensed by the National Bird Banding Laboratory to attach tiny metal rings to tiny hummer legs. Sheri has a great website which I encourage you to visit. She is a naturalist, ornithologist, author, and much more. (Link to Sheri's Website.) You'll find a treasure trove of all things feathery. It's worth the visit and you'll find out the do's and don'ts of feeding hummers which is very important.
The Casa de San Pedro is a beautiful setting for capturing hummers and we found places to sit while a handful of men intently watched the traps hung over the feeders. One had a remote (which is why a man is in charge of this) to spring the trap once the hummer is under the netting. Another quickly caged it in a small, soft net enclosure and delivered it to the crew of women who were ready for the next phase.
Sheri expertly removed the hummer from the cage and made measurements from beak to tail which were entered by Kathy, the data collector. Beak length, tail and wing length were taken. The minuscule band was quickly attached, the number recorded. Sheri then took a straw and blew at the chest feathers, determining whether it was a juvenile or adult, amount of fat, looking for pollen and louse eggs. A lot of information is collected within minutes. Each bird has a distinct personality. Some are quite docile, accepting human handling with barely a wiggle, but others have real attitudes and are not pleased to have their afternoon feeding disrupted. Each bird was weighed, held securely in a bit of fine mesh, clipped to the scale. A Black-chinned female weighed in at 3.8 grams. After that, Susan the volunteer who releases the birds, gently held her disgruntled captives and offered each the opportunity to stick their beak in the feeder on the table. Most were greedy and sucked down the nectar until they were full.
Now, here's the best part. Observers get to help release the birds. I was fortunate to release a young male Broad-bill who was content to stay in my hand for probably a full minute before he buzzed away. It is considered good luck if they pee in your hand and I was also blessed with abundant good luck. Susan comes prepared with tissues.
This is the 19th season of collecting hummingbird data on the San Pedro. Much has been learned about about their travels and their lifespans through this study. One of the birds caught on Friday was already banded. Kathy quickly found his data from the band number. A young male Rufous, he had been caught just two weeks prior. When measurements and weight were taken again, his checkup showed he was growing normally and he continued to be a bit of a grump. The ladies shared that birds may be caught multiple times over the years. One female was caught approximately 20 times over a ten year period. The typical lifespan is 4-5 years, but data is now showing longer lives for some. Year around feeding and favorable garden habitats may contribute to that.
I continue to be amazed by God's incredible creation. Birds with extraordinary jewel-tone colors, who hover, fly up, down, sideways, backwards--even upside down. Delicate, fierce, and beautiful birds who brighten my garden with their presence.