Facts About Hummingbird Tracking and Banding

Hummingbird banding started long after songbird banding, so researchers don’t have nearly as much information on the tiny fliers as they do on other birds. According to the North American Bird Banding Program operated by the U.S.

Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service, about 309,000 ruby-throated hummingbirds have been banded and tracked since 1960. By comparison, more than 30 million songbirds have been banded.

Most of what we do know about hummingbird migration is because of hummingbird tracking and banding. The data scientists have gathered thus far tell us amazing things. For instance, we know that ruby-throated hummingbirds follow the same migration routes every year.

They also arrive at and leave from stopover points on almost the same date each year, within a few days.

Hummingbird feeders equipped with curtains, netting or cages are monitored, and when a bird visits, it flips a switch and the netting comes down or the cage closes. This is a more effective method for capturing hummingbirds than the large mist nets usually used in songbird banding.

As you might expect, the bands that go around the leg of a hummingbird are minuscule—so small they fit around a toothpick or safety pin. Typically, they measure just 1.27-1.52 mm in diameter and 1.6 mm wide. Each band bears a letter prefix followed by a four-digit number.

If you think you have a rare hummingbird visiting your backyard or a hummer that seems to be staying for the winter, banders may be interested in your guest. Increasingly, Western hummingbirds are showing up in the East, and you can help researchers find out why by alerting banders.

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