Friday, May 8, 2009

A Bird in the Hand

I have a fondness for the very small.
Awe for those, who, despite their tiny size, accomplish feats of gargantuan proportion.
Completing a round trip journey each year, over a pathway of a thousand miles, from their winter months’ stay in Central America, to arrive at my window each spring—
weary travelers, reminding me a feeder is expected, hanging in this very spot, readied with clean nectar, from which to sip.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, female

The migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, these remarkable little powerhouses, is studied by Bill Hilton, Jr. of Operation Ruby Throat, and his demonstration of hummingbird banding started my week at the New River Festival.

preparing to collect and record data

Every part of the banding operation must be scaled down for these tiny navigational stars, from the handling of the delicate birds, to the bands themselves, each barely the size of the head of a pin.

Hummingbird bands stored on safety pin

As each small bird is caught in the trap, it is quickly removed and restrained in a small tube--the little gem, tucked head-first into a safe, dark place. Wings held closed and still.

gently lifting foot to place band

Its few grams of weight are recorded on the register, beside its band number, species, age, and sex. Date, location and time of the capture are also recorded.
Carefully, the numbered band is placed above her foot, and gently tightened.

Tail measurements are taken and the bill examined with a hand lens to determine age. Etchings along its length, from the rapid growth of nestlings, are worn away over time as these tiny birds feed, each brush of their slender bills against the tube of a feeder or flower, smoothing growth ridges gradually away.

Next, the throat is examined for feather color, another indicator of the little bird’s age. And with a quick puff of air against her body, feathers blown aside to check for body fat, yellow peeking through her translucent pink skin.

She seems quite calm through all this, the firm but gentle handling quieting her.
Warm morning sunshine reflecting the lovely iridescent green of her back.
And, in silence, all eyes watch, and marvel at such a tiny one so close.
So still.

Until she is held in an open palm to be released,
and, with a burst--is gone.
Safe travels, little one.


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poefusion said...

Every year for 10+yrs I've had the same little hummingbird visit. It's beautiful. To actually view someone holding these tiny creatures in their hands is remarkable. I'm surprised at how docile she was while being handled. I would have thought she would have been afraid especially when her head was placed in the tube. Outstanding post. Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Those bands were sooo tiny. Bill must have a very calm and gentle hand to band those tiny legs.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

The little tube she was tucked into almost reminded me of swaddling a baby--keeping enough pressure to prevent that feeling of flailing about--and maybe quieting her?

KGMom said...

Many of you on the WVa trip (whose blogs I read) have written about the banding the hummingbird. It is a most amazing thing to do.
I have enjoyed reading this story.

bobbie said...

A fascinating post, Nina. The little hummers are a blessing to us all.

Bernie said...

I enjoyed this informative post, so much to do to acquire the information that is needed and it is so tiny. The kindness and tenderness you show these birds gives me faith in mankind. You truly are lovely people and great human beings. It is a pleasure to read your post....Thank you....Bernie

Anonymous said...

lovely... its really tiny... !

Wanda..... said...

Enjoyed learning something here again! Can't imagine getting that tiny band on that delicate leg...seems impossible...Thanks for your visit Nina...Is it lawful and permitted to transplant wild flowers?...if may have all you want.

Mary said...


I'm still amazed, not only at the banding - amazed at what you call gargantuan power. So true!


Bill Hilton Jr. said...

NINA . . .

Terrific job on describing in words and photos my banding of a hummingbird at the New River Birding & Nature Festival in West Virginia. Wish we had had more time to talk, but the birds were constantly beckoning. :-)

Ginnymo said...

I love this post Nina!! It's amazing that they can be handled without hurting them. I always wondered if that band irritates their legs at all. I worry about little things like that..Ha! Or if the band puts extra weight on them when they are flying. I really enjoyed this post! Thank you so much!

Deborah Godin said...

Until we live in a world where such studies aren't needed (because we've learned to share nice with others!) it's good to have such dedicated people keeping watch.

Irene said...

Nina, I loved this post!! You were really able to show the process so well. I read your blog every day:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting this post together. I have never knew that there was a project for banding hummingbirds. We don't see as many Ruby-throats here in the east compared with the populations of Anna's Broad-tails and Costas in the west. Cool post.

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing this, Nina. So wonderful. I plan on going to a hummingbird banding demo at Lake Hope in July. I really can't wait to see such a thing in person!

And welcome home - I am so enjoying reading everyone's posts about their experiences at the festival!

Mel said...

Hola Nina,
Hummingbirds are some of my favourite birds :)
Over here the ones I get to see the most are the Amazilia Amazilia. They like to perch on the high branches of my neighbour's tree.
Thanks for sharing!

mon@rch said...

I have only had a chance to meet Bill once but never had the chance to band with him! Thanks for sharing!