Louisiana Hummingbird Banding - Winter 2006-2007

The following is a summary of the hummingbird banding activities of Dave Patton, Linda Beall, Paul Dickson, Stephen Locke, and Nancy Newfield over the course of the 2006-2007 winter season in Louisiana. Patton, Beall, and Newfield are self-employed, permitting some flexibility in scheduling. Dickson manages a large business. Locke is a biologist who worked in tandem with Newfield some of the time.
 
The majority of the hummingbirds banded were in the southern third of the state, roughly the area south of Interstate 10/12. Patton covered the area from Baton Rouge westward, mostly around Lafayette. Beall banded east of Baton Rouge and north of Lake Pontchartrain. Newfield and Locke banded mostly southeast of Baton Rouge, south of Lake Pontchartrain, and in the Houma/Thibodaux area. Beall and Newfield/Locke both banded in Baton Rouge. Dickson studied a small pocket of wintering hummers in Shreveport and other parts of northern Louisiana. This region of the state typically hosts fewer wintering hummers, but the area has been little studied, so generalities may not be valid.
 
The Louisiana Winter Hummingbird Project differs substantially from passerine migration banding studies. Most sites host only a few hummers, so efforts must be made to catch individuals rather than mist-netting whichever birds might pass through during a specific time period. Most captures are made using cage wire traps placed around feeders. Electronic remote-control releasers permit the operation of several traps at one time and they allow the bander to watch from an indoor location, making inclement weather less of a factor. Mist nets and other types of traps are occasionally employed. Because of the dispersed distribution of the birds, operations must be completely portable. More than 125 sites were visited.
 
Almost all birds were color-marked using specially-colored, water-soluble Liquid Paper on their crowns. Color-marking allowed us to avoid repeatedly capturing the same birds and it permitted hummerhosts to specifically identify each individual. Color-marking enabled the hosts to distinguish look-alikes and to notice new, unbanded birds as they arrived. Color-marked birds are more noticeable as they moved from one site to another as well. In several locations, we found more individuals present than had been originally tallied by the hosts. In most locations, the roster of individual hummers did not remain constant. Instead, while many individuals defend territories throughout the winter, others seem to trap-line over a fairly large area. This required the banders to make two or more visits to a number of sites as unbanded birds replaced individuals that had already been banded.
 
The project was initiated in 1979 as a means of documenting the numbers and species assortment of hummingbirds that spend the winter months in Louisiana. Traditional wisdom of the 1970s was that any hummers occurring in Louisiana during the winter months were vagrants or they were Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that forgot to migrate after the nesting season. Our banding studies have shown that the breeding population is almost completely gone by mid-August, so those that crowd feeders in late August and September are most certainly migrants. The 1974 edition of Louisiana Birds by George H. Lowery, Jr., lists 5 species of hummers. The state list currently stands at 12 species!
 
In the 1970s, most guides to hummingbird feeding dictated that feeders be removed by early September so that the ready availability of nectar would not cause hummingbirds to linger too long into the fall. At that time, it was thought that nearly all hummers that attempted to spend the winter in the area perished in cold weather and therefore spending the winter months in Louisiana was not a good strategy for survival. However, we have not found any Ruby-throateds banded during the usual period of breeding or of southward migration to remain for the winter. Therefore, members of Louisiana's only nesting species that arrive in late autumn belong to other, as yet unknown populations.
 
The season, as we define it, begins with the arrival of the first non-Ruby-throated Hummingbird in mid summer. Typically, the first arrivals are adult Rufous Hummingbirds in August and most of those are returnees from previous seasons. During the early part of the season, we primarily attempt to verify returning hummers or to document rarities. Later, as several birds stake out territories at a site, we endeavor to capture and band as many as possible. We also attempt to recapture marked birds that have moved in from other sites.
 
Because the last stage of Ruby-throated southward migration may extend well into December, it is very difficult to categorize individuals of that species as winterers or migrants early in the season. Therefore, we arbitrarily define wintering for Ruby-throateds as those we encounter on or after 15 November, though some of those birds may actually be tardy migrants. Some that occur earlier may well be winterers as was the case in the winter of 2006-2007.
 
The winter banding season peaks in January and February, when maximum numbers are present at the various sites. The season usually ends in late February or early March as wintering birds begin leaving and summer resident Ruby-throateds begin arriving. At that time, wintering birds become more difficult to catch and banding trips become less productive. However some wintering birds stay well into April or even early May.
 
Totals for the 2006-2007 season are:
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Allen's Hummingbird
1
23 [+ 6 returnees + 1 foreign re-encounter]
72 [+ 4 returnees]
41 [+ 7 returnees + 1 foreign re-encounter]
0 [+1 returnee]
40 [+ 1 returnee]
7
265 [+ 37 returnees + 8 foreign re-encounters]
7 [+ 1 foreign re-encounter]
Total = 456 individuals of 8 species [+ 56 returnees & 11 foreign re-encounters].
 
Explanation of terminology: Bird banders often use specialized terminology when discussing their favorite subject. Returnee — a bird that has returned to the specific wintering site where it was banded after having been away for its putative breeding season. Foreign Re-encounter — any subsequent capturing of a banded bird after it leaves the 10-minute block in which it was banded. A foreign re-encounter can be the capturing of one of our own birds at a distant site within Louisiana or one banded outside the state. The total of foreign re-encounters does not include birds banded during the season that were re-encountered elsewhere within our area as the season progressed.
 
The number of wintering hummingbirds banded [456] falls somewhat short of the totals of the seasons from 2001-2002 [482], 2002-2003 [481], and 2003-2004 [510], but the poor seasons of 2004-2005 [355] and 2005-2006 [301] were easily surpassed. The total of returnees and foreign re-encounters raises the tally of birds handled to 523, 138 individuals more than the previous season. While the number of returnees was fewer than in the past few years, the number of foreigners was a bit higher. The reduced number of returnees is certainly a reflection of the paucity of new bands applied in the previous two seasons. The all-time high count of winter hummers banded was 510 individuals of 8 species. This tally, set in the productive winter of 2003-2004, did not include 85 returnees and 7 foreign re-encounters, which brought the roster of hummers handled that season to 602.
 
The amount of effort of the banders was probably similar to that of recent though two participants from those seasons did not band in Louisiana in 2006-2007. One has left the area. The substantial increase in numbers was very satisfying and may be attributable to an upswing in the breeding population of Rufous and Calliope. Good numbers of young birds of those species may bode well for continued increases in the next few years.
 
As usual, Rufous accounted for the largest number of individuals — both new bands, returnees, and foreigners. In our best seasons, Rufous have accounted for approximately 65% of the total of hummers handled. However, in the last couple of seasons, that species has only accounted for slightly more than 50% of new bands applied. This season, the percentage of Rufous rose to 58% for newly banded birds and it was 67% for returnees.
 
Numbers of Ruby-throated and Black-chinned typically fluctuate greatly. This season, Ruby-throated ranked second in abundance, while Black-chinned dropped into third place among newly banded birds. However, there were more Black-chinned returnees than Ruby-throated.
 
Buff-bellied numbers, never high, remain steady for newly banded individuals. However, the number of returnees seemed to be below average. Returning Buff-bellieds always present a challenge to capture for documentation.
 
Numbers of Calliope and Broad-tailed have been depressed for the last few seasons. Both species showed increases this season, dramatically so in the case of Calliope, which came close to nosing out Black-chinned for third place. The number of Allen's is usually small and not statistically significant. This season was no different.
 
Except for the 2002-2003 season, Broad-billeds have been documented in Louisiana each winter in the last decade. This year, the only one was a spectacular adult male. Anna's is never guaranteed and no new Anna's were banded. However, an adult male Anna's that stayed until 10 May last season arrived on 22 October for another winter visit. This is the first ever Anna's returnee for Louisiana.
 
After two disappointing seasons, the increased numbers were very gratifying this season. We know that each season will yield new and interesting information. Even in a slow season, there is much to be learned. However, busy seasons such as this one are a lot more fun as we seek more data points to fill in the huge puzzle of Louisiana's wintering hummingbirds.
 
One of our goals in banding is to find out where the birds originate, that is, to establish the breeding grounds of our winterers. That information has been slow in coming with a single Rufous found dead during the nesting season in British Columbia, Canada. Still, other re-encounters and recoveries give us glimpses into the vagabond lifestyles of our hummingbirds.
 
After our last report was filed, we learned that a male Rufous that had been a youngster when banded in Sunset in March 2004, was found dead in Sonora, Mexico, in May 2006. This bird possibly returned to the banding site the following winter, but it was not caught for confirmation. The Mexican finder was not able to determine how long the corpse had been present or the manner of death. However, the location was along the normal migratory route of Rufous Hummingbirds that spend their non-breeding period in southern Mexico.
 
Five hummers banded in Louisiana in previous seasons were caught in other states this season. A female Rufous that had been a youngster at the time of banding in January 2005 at a site in St Rose was captured in December 2006 in Jackson, Mississippi. Also in December, a female Rufous banded as an adult in January 2004 in Gramercy was encountered in Pinson, Alabama. That state hosted yet a third one of our Rufous. A male that had been immature at the time of banding in Covington in January 2005 spent a second winter at the same Silverhill, Alabama, site as the previous season.
 
A female Black-chinned that had been an adult when she was banded in Covington in February 2005 was found wintering in Mobile, Alabama, in January 2007. An adult male Black-chinned that had been a youngster when originally handled in December 2005 in Reserve was also found in Mobile, Alabama, this time in March.
 
A male Buff-bellied, banded as a youngster in December 2006 in Covington, moved to a site in Baton Rouge later that month. His identity was verified in January and he stayed on site until the morning of 20 April 2007. Just 3 ½ days later, on the afternoon of 23 April 2007, he was captured in Raisin, Texas, 379 miles from the Baton Rouge site where he had spent most of the winter!
 
These wintering birds may not be at their ultimate destination when we catch them. As was the case of the previously mentioned Buff-bellied, a young female Rufous, caught and banded in Raceland in mid-January, was encountered again just a couple of weeks later in Madisonville — 53 miles northeast, as the Trochilid flies.
 
Of course, these winter wanderers don't recognize political boundaries and 2 Rufous that had been banded in southwest Mississippi earlier in the season moved in to spend the rest of the winter in Louisiana gardens. A young male from Carriere moved 25 miles west southwest to Abita Springs, while a young female left Diamondhead for Baton Rouge, 105 miles due west.
 
Same season re-encounters demonstrate the amazing mobility of our hummingbirds. An immature male Rufous banded in Point Clear, Alabama, in early December 2006 was caught in early March 2007 in Baton Rouge — 192 miles west of the original site. Given the early March date, it is possible this individual was en route to his natal region when re-encountered. However, heavy molt of the primaries and body suggest otherwise. Another young male Rufous that had been banded in Goodwater, Alabama, in mid-December 2006 eventually showed up in Bridge City later in the winter where he was caught in the latter part of February. The destination site is 324 miles southwest of the banding site.
 
A young male Allen's banded in Rockport, Texas, in September 2006 might have been thought to be a southbound migrant. However, in January 2007, he was caught in Carencro, 341 straight line miles east northeast in January. He is the first foreign Allen's ever caught in Louisiana!
 
We established another Texas connection as well. An adult male Buff-bellied caught in New Orleans in February 2007 had been a “second year” bird when banded in May 2002 in Raisin, Texas. The bird was never re-captured at the original site in the nearly 5 intervening years!
 
Three [3] other foreign re-encounters were from the 2005-2006 winter season. An adult male Rufous caught in Covington in late December was a young of the year when originally handled in Pace, Florida, in late December 2005. He remained at his new winter site for the entire season, departing late in March. Another adult male Rufous was also young when banded in Freeport, Florida, in late January 2006. He was caught in Prairieville in early February. An adult female Black-chinned caught in Thibodaux was also young when banded in Fairhope, Alabama, in early January 2006.
 
Returnees are resourceful birds that prove winter survival and exhibit an uncanny navigational ability when they are able to relocate their previous winter home after flying hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. Long-term returnees provide longevity data and attest to the value of created or enhanced habitats.
 
There were no new longevity records this season. The oldest bird was a female Rufous in Mathews that was immature when she was banded in February 2000. She was hatched in the 1999 breeding season and using the formula of the Bird Banding Laboratory for establishing age, she was 7 years 7 months old at the time of handling.
 
One site in Baton Rouge held 2 “senior” hummers, both Rufous [1 male, 1 female] nearing the 7-year mark. A female Ruby-throated in Abita Springs also nears 7 years, perhaps more. She was already an adult when she was banded in December 2001.
 
A female Rufous that was a “second year” bird when banded in Covington in February 2003 surprised the host by showing up on Easter Sunday [8 April], long after the close of the winter season. The last time she was encountered at the site was January 2004.
 
Winter weather is seldom extreme in Louisiana, but weather can play a significant role in this project. We do not band during subfreezing temperatures or during heavy rain, but neither was a major factor this winter. Dense fog can impede travel and scheduled trips may be postponed because driving conditions are too hazardous. However, weather in the winter of 2006-2007 did not cause many curtailments of our activities. Floral nectar was abundantly available throughout the area south of Lake Pontchartrain over the course of the season so hummers in that area were not at all dependent on handouts from humans. In fact, in some gardens, flowers are much preferred over feeders. A few hard frosts north of Lake Pontchartrain and in Baton Rouge scorched the landscape causing more extensive feeder usage in those areas, but still the availability of insect food ensured that hummers could make their livings very well.
 
The Louisiana Winter Hummingbird Project has benefited from the enthusiastic assistance and generous financial support of numerous people. Many hummerhosts welcomed us with strong coffee, juice, and breakfast at unbelievably early hours. Several maintained a running tally of birds in their cities or towns and they set up banding schedules for us. Others wrangled equipment, trapped birds, recorded data or assisted us in locating additional winterers. Kevin Morgan gave 2 days each week to organize Baton Rouge banding trips during which he set up equipment, recorded data, and located new sites. His participation gave the Baton Rouge area much more effective coverage than it has had in the past couple of years. Frank Arthur, Lynn Becnel, Laurie Binford, Sue Broussard, Olga Clifton, Paul Conover, Miriam Davey, Dennis Demcheck, Bill Fontenot, Dennis Forshee, Mimi Grisoli, Ember Jandebeur, Erik Johnson, Bob Jumonville, Beth and Sammy Maniscalco, Rose and Jack Must [Wild Birds Unlimited, Lafayette], John and Margaret Owens, Bob Rickett, Mike Roberts, Bob Sargent, Jacob Saucier, Cheryl Stanbury, Ron Stein, Melanie and Pat Stephens, Gene and Edna Street, and Tom Sylvest all invested many hours in this project with us. We appreciate their special help very much.
 
To read previous Louisiana Hummingbird Banding Winter Reports, log on to http://losbird.org/ and scroll down to “Hummingbirds”. Already, Louisiana's hummingbird banders are looking forward to the next season — just a couple of months away! We are always searching for new sites where hummers reside during the winter months. Please contact us if you host wintering hummers or know someone who does. Dave Patton: wdpatton@cox.net phone 337-232-8410. Linda Beall: hummbander@yahoo.com phone 985-893-5150 [home], 504-231-5150 [cell]. Nancy Newfield: nancy@casacolibri.net phone 504-835-3882 [home], 504-338-3882 [cell].
 
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Nancy L Newfield
Casa Colibrí
Metairie, LA USA
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