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Please forgive me for shamelessly reposting this report that was initially published in August of 2013.

Whoohoo! An update to this post: Today, The Idaho Statesman reports that hummingbird banding projects across the country are paying off with new understandings and fresh questions about the life of a hummingbird. It is becoming clear that the life span of hummingbirds is much longer than the two to three years originally assumed. And a new-to-Idaho species, the Anna’s hummingbird, has made several appearances. The crucial missing link in this long-term research is active bird-banding at the migration destinations in Mexico and Central America.DSC_1103 - Copy

Between May and September, hummingbirds are on the move across Idaho. At least three species of these itsy-bitsy birdiesโ€”smallest bird species in the worldโ€”migrate from their winter range in Mexico to their breeding range in Alaska and back again.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

The Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO), a department of biological sciences at Boise State University, “monitors the abundance, breeding condition, and migratory timing . . .ย  of the hummingbirds that use the Boise National Forest during the breeding and migration season.” The data is shared with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network and the Western Hummingbird Partnership. Reliable data helps scientists understand the migration patterns and monitor threats to the continued success of the hummingbird. Last year IBO captured 368 birds, 48 of which were sporting bands from previous captures. The breakdown:

  • 178 Black-chinned – weighs about as much as a nickel
  • 177 Calliope – smallest migrating creature in the world; weighs about the same as a penny
  • 13 Rufous – most aggressive. Has been observed attacking an eagle!

I recently observed an IBO hummingbird banding session in the hills north of Boise. Activity begins as the sun crests the horizon. Dressed in sweatshirts and hoodies, a team of students and trained volunteers traps, weighs, measures and evaluates the condition of, and bands about 70 birds during a 4-5 hour session. The birds are most active at dusk and dawn, while the temperature is cool.

The net above the feeder will drop, safely trapping the bird

The net above the feeder will drop, safely trapping the bird

An experienced handler gently captures the bird, which stops struggling as soon as warm hands close around it.

An experienced handler gently captures the bird, which stops struggling as soon as warm hands close around it.

Body fat, feather characteristics, sex, and general condition are evaluated.

Body fat, feather characteristics, sex, and general condition are evaluated.

...and recorded.

…and recorded.

Wing measurement

Wing measurement

Measuring the beak.

Beak measurement (glad they didn’t hold that thing up to MY beak!)

A snack to reduce stress.

A snack to reduce stress.

Selecting & recording the band.

Selecting & recording the band.

Attaching the band.

Attaching the band.

The best part: Onlookers get to release the banded birds.  They sit for a moment or two, gathering their wits

The best part: Onlookers get to release the banded birds. They sit for a moment or two, gathering their wits

The feel of their heartbeat in your palm is magical. Sometimes it takes a puff of breath to remind them they are free.

The feel of their heartbeat in your palm is magical. Sometimes it takes a puff of breath to remind them they are free.

All gone!

All gone!

The mission of IBO is: Impacting human lives and significantly contributing to conservation through a unique combination of cooperative research focusing on migratory birds, education, discovery of the natural world, and community engagement. Hummingbird banding is just one of their many projects.