Date: June 16, 2008 12:49:15 PM
I'm not a member of the MOBIRDS list, so I'm
writing you directly. I understand your frustration. I'm happy to explain,
and please forgive the excruciating detail if you're already familiar with
I didn't capture Bill Reeves' Broad-tailed to
confirm its ID; as you say, that wasn't necessary. My motivation was the
possibility of reading an existing band. Bear with me for a bit...
Some individuals of many western hummingbird
species winter in the southeastern U.S., returning year after year
(confirmed by banding). This is an interesting phenomenon, because it
suggests a mitigating "Plan B" strategy in the event a species' traditional
Mexican winter range becomes compromised due to deforestation, global
warming, or other reasons. The Rufous we see in Missouri each fall aren't
lost or out of range any more than the warblers we see passing through the
state to breed in Canada; they're migrating on what, to them, is a normal
route. The difference between warblers and hummingbirds is a matter of
numbers, plus the challenge of seeing hummingbirds after most folks take
their feeders down.
Banders in the southeast are banding as many winter
hummingbirds as possible, including Broad-tailed. From a wildlife management
perspective, it's useful to know to what extent these hummingbird
subpopulations offer a hedge against problems their mainstream conspecifics
may face in the future. As more hummingbird banders are trained and
certified, the data mounts and insights emerge.
However, there is almost no data about the routes
these hummingbirds take migrating between their winter and breeding ranges.
That's mainly because there are so few hummingbird banders in the middle of
the continent. In June, a Broad-tailed in Missouri is probably heading west
to breed after wintering in the Gulf states, and the odds of it wearing a
band are much higher than normal. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this
time, but on December 1, 2001, I captured a Rufous in Ann McCormack's yard
that had been banded in Louisiana the previous winter; that Rufous had been
scoped, videotaped, and generally ogled by scores if not hundreds of birders
since its arrival in early October, and not one person had seen the band.
That recapture helped to quell a long-running debate over migration
If I had not caught Bill's Broad-tailed, I would
have squandered an opportunity and failed my banding colleagues who are
working hard to learn more about alternate hummingbird migration strategies.
The answer to low data rates isn't to give up, it's to catch more
I thought carefully about when to try capturing
this bird. As a migrant enroute to breed--and probably a bit behind
schedule--the longer it stays, the more likely each sighting will be the
last, closing the window for both birding and science whether it's trapped
or not. Like birders, banders miss "one-day wonders" all the time. As a
compromise, I decided to wait until evening, since migrant hummingbirds
routinely depart in the morning, and at least some birders would have seen
the bird before it was trapped. I'm truly sorry you weren't among them.
Additionally, at the time it looked like it might rain Sunday, and wet
hummers are more likely to lose feathers so I don't trap in the rain. It's
hard to get away during the work week.
It's true that some hummingbirds won't return to a
feeder after banding, at least not right away. It's also true that some
individuals return so quickly and so frequently that they become pests when
we're trying to catch unbanded birds. It seems a matter of individual
temperament, and isn't predictable, but nearly all of the western hummers
I've banded have returned to the same feeder within 15 minutes of removing
Another factor may be important here as well: a
particularly-aggressive male Ruby-throated was harassing the hapless
Broad-tailed and chasing it all over Bill's yard, including through the
woods behind the house. Every time the BTLH approached the feeder, it'd be
met with a mid-air body slam. After I tripped the trap to catch it, the RTHU
began bouncing off the mesh, trying to get at it from the outside. I was
amazed the Broad-tailed hadn't already left to find a less-stressful source
of food, or at least toned down its wing whistle and gone into stealth
Sorry this was so long, and I hope it came across
as informative and not patronizing. Birders and banders need each other, and
compromise is always a work-in-progress. Your comments matter to me! Please
let me know if I can provide more info.
St. Louis, MO