Hummingbird study and enjoyment isn’t only during the spring, summer and fall, when most hummingbird activity takes place in southern Mississippi. It can happen during winter months, too, supposedly after the hummingbirds have migrated farther south. This post kind of follows up on a recent post about migrating hummingbirds, What A Buzz! Hummers By The Dozen!
I discovered to my surprise this weekend that not all hummingbirds have migrated out of south Mississippi this winter.
And, thanks to some good friends, here is how that discovery came about.
Question: How many people does it take to safely trap, tag and measure a wintering hummingbird?
Answer: One, if he has five years of training, proper accreditation and really knows what he is doing!
Friday evening, as I was eating supper, my cell phone rang. The caller was my friend Ralph, from Pass Christian, of recent sky diving fame, inquiring if I might be interested in coming over to his home early Saturday morning to observe a trained trapper catch a winter hummingbird or two, for leg banding and measurement.
Ralph said that James Bell, of Picayune, Mississippi, would be stopping over around 7:00am with his trapping and measuring equipment to study any wintering hummingbirds that happened to visit Ralph and Andrea’s nectar feeders, and venture into the radio-controlled trap he was bringing with him.
James is a trained member of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, Inc. (HBSG), a Non-Profit Organization founded by Bob and Martha Sargent in 1993, dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds and other neo-tropical migrants (songbirds).
I said to Ralph, “Hey, that sounds really interesting. I’ll be over at 7:00am.”
Ralph and Andrea’s home is located in nearby Pass Christian, about a mile across the woods and railroad tracks, from my little travel trailer home in rural Long Beach. Andrea and I are co-workers weekdays at the nearby South Mississippi Regional Center, in Long Beach. Like our friend, Master Naturalist John, Andrea is also an accredited Master Naturalist.
The weather forecast for Saturday morning called for an 80% chance of rain, and when I got up at 6:00am then, it was raining heavily. As the rain pounded onto the metal roof of my trailer, I wondered to myself just how would we be able to trap hummingbirds in heavy rain?
When I drove into Ralph’s driveway at 7:00am, it has stopped raining, and Ralph and Andrea were on the front porch, waiting for me, and for James, who had not yet arrived.
We went inside, and while waiting for James, had a cup of coffee and some toast, and watched the many birds flying to and from the many feeders, located just outside the large windows of the spacious kitchen.
At about 7:30am, James arrived and carried in his banding gear box and camera, and then went out back to set up the radio-controlled hummer trap, just outside the kitchen windows.
When all was in readiness, the four of us went inside and took up our watching stations in a line of four chairs facing the windows and the hummer trap outside.
We hadn’t been sat down in our chairs for even a minute, when a small hummingbird flew up to the trap, buzzed around to the opening, and zipped inside to feed on the nectar feeder hanging from the top of the trap.
James had the trap clicker in his hand, and with a quick press of a finger, the trap door dropped, locking with a soft click, and just that quick, we had our first hummer of the day to band and study.
We quickly went outside to the trap, where James reached in and carefully put the little hummer into a small, nylon mesh bag, after which we returned to the kitchen where James would apply a tiny leg band, do a serious of measurements and observations, and weigh the little hummer.
After a little careful study, James determined that the bird was a second-year, Rufous female. The final part of the study was to photograph the bird, using a macro lens, from several angles.
Among the many interesting facts about hummingbirds that James told us about during the time he was doing measurements and photographing, was that their normal heartbeat at rest, not under stress, was around 250 beats per minutes. When they were at high activity or under stress, their heartbeat could rise to approaching 1000 beats per minute.
He also advised that when hummer babies were ready to leave the nest, they were normally full grown, and had a healthy level of body fat, as the mother hummer took very good care of them when they were growing in the nest.
He also related that hummingbirds scout out and know where all active nectar feeders are in a given local, and generally will have a nectar visit route where they will stop by all the feeders to feed.
The hummer nest is very small. If you were to try to set a quarter flar down into the nest, it may not fit, without pushing on the quarter. The hummer female also always lays two eggs, at most, almost never, three, and can have 3 sets of babies in each bredding season.
As the breeding season approaches each spring, the male hummers always come north to the area where they were born, approximately two weeks before the females arrive, basically to mark and lay out their own breeding territories. Hummingbirds also do not mate for life.
And then, already, it was time to set the little hummer free. James gently set the bird in the palm of Andrea’s hand, and with a couple of light taps of his finger to the underside of her hand, the bird quickly zipped up and away and out of sight.
Seated back inside again in our viewing chairs, James talked about his experiences working as a HBSG volunteer banding apprentice for five years with hummingbirds along the Gulf Coast, especially at the Fort Morgan, Alabama Bird Banding Station, which led to his being certified to catch, band and study hummingbirds.
James talked about his experiences at Fort Morgan, during the spring and fall migration seasons, when volunteers would set out dozens and dozens of catching nets each day. He said on his busiest days, he would catch, band and measure up to 200 birds.
As we were sitting in front of the windows talking, another hummingbird suddenly appeared by the cage, and quick as a flash, zipped inside to feed.
Ralph made a dive for the trap door clicker and was pressing buttons like mad, finally pressing the right one, and the trap door dropped.
We had our second hummingbird of the morning! And this one was much larger than the previous bird!
When James removed this bird from the trap, he said with a bit of glee, “This one is a Buff-belly, and a large one, too!”
James told us that this bird normally winters down in Mexico, which is around an 18-hour flight for Buff-bellies to make, flying along at a height of 20′-30- or so, during the trip.
Because of the large size of this hummer, James had to fashion a special leg band to fit this fellow, and after the band had been applied, measurements and digital images taken, he was released, and quickly flew away.
James had determined that he was also a second-year bird, and was a strong male.
Shortly thereafter, James loaded his equipment up, bid us all a cheery goodbye, and headed to his next appointment, in another yard, also in Pass Christian.
It was a most interesting and informative morning learning much about hummingbirds, and enjoying fellowship with good friends.
If anyone in southern Mississippi or southern Louisiana has hummingbirds visiting nectar feeders in their yard this winter, and would like James to stop by and try to determine exactly what kind of hummer you have in your yard, he can be contacted at: James Bell, at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling: 601-798-9389.
Interested persons may also volunteer at the Fort Morgan, Alabama Bird Banding Station in the spring and fall, by contacting the HBSG web site.