Louisiana Hummingbird Banding – Winter 2010-2011
The following is a summary of the hummingbird banding activities of Dave Patton, Linda Beall, Stephen Locke, and Nancy Newfield over the course of the 2010-2011 winter season in Louisiana. Patton and Newfield are self-employed, permitting some flexibility in scheduling. Beall is an administrative assistant at a law firm. Locke is a biologist, who worked in tandem with Newfield part of the time. Paul Dickson covers the northwestern corner of Louisiana, but no wintering hummingbirds were reported to him.
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 observe 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.
Almost all banded birds were also color-marked using specially-colored, water-soluble Liquid Paper on their crowns. Color-marking allows us to avoid repeatedly capturing the same birds and it permits hummerhosts to specifically identify each individual. Color-marking enables 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 does not remain constant. Instead, while many individuals defend territories throughout the winter, others seem to trap-line over a fairly large area. This requires the banders to make two or more visits to a number of sites as unbanded birds replace individuals that have already been banded.
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 mostly 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, Patton, and Newfield/Locke all banded in Baton Rouge. Dickson studies a small pocket of wintering hummers in Shreveport and other parts of northern Louisiana. However, with diminishing numbers, none were reported from that area in the winter of 2010-2011.
This 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 almost certainly migrants passing through on their southbound route to winter quarters in southern Mexico south to central Costa Rica. The 1974 edition of Louisiana Birds by George H. Lowery, Jr., lists 5 species of hummingbirds. The state list currently stands at 13 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 probably 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 from other sites.
Because the last stage of Ruby-throated southward migration may extend into December, it is very difficult to categorize individuals of that species as winterers or as 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 winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011.
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 2010-2011 Season:
|Buff-bellied Hummingbird||26 [+ 8 returnees + 2 foreign re-encounters]|
|Ruby-throated Hummingbird||43 [+ 5 returnees]|
|Black-chinned Hummingbird||71 [+ 11 returnees]|
|Calliope Hummingbird||2 [+ 4 returnees]|
|Rufous Hummingbird||80 [+ 46 returnees + 1 foreign re-encounters]|
|Allen’s Hummingbird||8 [+ 1 returnee]|
Total = 240 new bands of 9 species [+ 74 returnees + 3 foreign re-encounters] = 317 individuals handled.
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.
Comparisons and Discussions
The number of wintering hummingbirds banded  falls far short of the totals of most recent seasons, except for the 2 previous ones. A brief summary of other recent seasons follows:
2000-2001 – 416 new bands + 32 returnees + 3 foreign re-encounters = 451 individuals handled.
2001-2002 – 482 new bands + 55 returnees + 2 foreign re-encounters = 539 individuals handled.
2002-2003 – 481 new bands + 53 returnees + 9 foreign re-encounters = 543 individuals handled.
2003-2004 – 510 new bands + 85 returnees + 7 foreign re-encounters = 602 individuals handled.
2004-2005 – 355 new bands + 111 returnees + 11 foreign re-encounters = 477 individuals handled.
2005-2006 – 301 new bands + 77 returnees + 7 foreign re-encounters = 385 individuals handled.
2006-2007 – 456 new bands + 57 returnees + 11 foreign re-encounters = 524 individuals handled.
2007-2008 – 319 new bands + 77 returnees + 7 foreign re-encounters = 403 individuals handled.
2008-2009 – 210 new bands + 63 returnees + 3 foreign re-encounters = 276 individuals handled.
2009-2010 – 231 new bands + 81 returnees + 4 foreign re-encounters = 298 individuals handled.
2010-2011 – 240 new bands + 74 returnees + 3 foreign re-encounters = 317 individuals handled.
The total of returnees and foreign re-encounters raises the tally of birds handled to 317 individuals, only 11 more than the lackluster 2009-2010 season and 30 more than the even poorer season of 2008-2009. The number of returnees was solid with the total being 6th among the last 11 winter seasons.
For several reasons, the amount of effort of the banders was somewhat less than that of most recent seasons. However, in general, the paucity of newly banded individuals resulted from sites that normally host substantial numbers attracting fewer than their long-term average.
As usual, Rufous accounted for the largest number of individuals – both new bands and returnees. In our best seasons, Rufous have accounted for approximately 66% of the total number of hummers handled. However, the two relatively poor seasons of 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 saw the percentage of Rufous among newly banded hummers drop to about 38%. This season though, the percentage of newly banded Rufous dropped precipitously to slightly over 33% though more than 61% of all returnees were Rufous.
Numbers of Ruby-throated and Black-chinned typically exhibit great fluctuation. This season, Black-chinneds ranked second in abundance with nearly 30% of new bands and nearly 15% of returnees, giving Rufous a ‘run for its money’. In Thibodaux, a one-day record thirteen Black-chinned were banded over three sites. Ruby-throateds fell to third place with somewhat less than 15% of new bands and more than 10% of all returnees.
The 11-year average of Buff-bellied numbers is a little more than 25 new birds, so this year’s 26 is as close to average as we can get. 8 returnees and 2 foreign birds were very interesting. With the current summer’s drought in Texas, one must wonder how successful their breeding season will be.
Numbers of Calliope remained very low. Broad-tailed numbers were also low, but there has never been a large presence of this Rocky Mountain species in the state. The number of Allen’s is usually small as well.
Broad-billeds have not increased as much as we once thought they would and sometimes none are reported for a year or more. However, 5 individuals banded [and 2 reported that were not banded] are stellar additions to the winter tally. Thus far, no Broad-billed has been documented as returning to Louisiana. Anna’s is never guaranteed, but the only 2 reported this season were banded.
After the poor numbers of the last few seasons, we had hoped that numbers would rebound. However, in Louisiana, we are investigating end results and not causes, which almost certainly originate on the nesting grounds and along migratory routes. The crux of the matter is declining numbers of Rufous in the state during the non-breeding season. 80 newly banded was the lowest number since the mid 1990s. Numbers of returnee Rufous still seem substantial, but those aging birds cannot sustain the declining population for long. We have to hope that our numbers are not typical of the entire population and that more youngsters will paint a rosier picture of this species’s future in coming winters. Even in a slow season such as this last, there is much to be learned. Busy seasons are a lot more fun as we seek additional data points to fill in the huge puzzle of Louisiana’s wintering hummingbirds, but we know that we cannot expect continual growth.
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 female Rufous found dead during the nesting season in British Columbia, Canada several years ago. A male Rufous, banded in Mandeville was caught in Alberta, Canada, a few years ago. The timing suggests that he was migrating southward at the time of capture. Still, the locality suggests a Canadian [or an Alaskan] origin. A female Rufous that was banded in Metairie in November 2008 was captured on the breeding grounds in Washington in the following May 2009.
Known origins of Louisiana’s Black-chinneds are quite diverse. A wintering Black-chinned had been banded during southward migration in Arizona, while another was migrating on the central Texas coast when it was banded. The Texas Black-chinned was caught just a few months later in Lutcher. The most solid breeding grounds connection was a female that had been banded in Houma in 2006 and was found in southern Idaho in July 2009.
Origins of wintering Ruby-throateds have been even more mysterious. No Ruby-throated banded during the breeding season in Louisiana has ever been recorded in Louisiana during the winter months. No Ruby-throated banded in Louisiana during the winter had ever been recorded in Louisiana or elsewhere during the breeding season – at least not until recently! Just a few weeks ago, we received a report of a Ruby-throated that had been banded in Covington in January 2005 and was subsequently found dead on an unspecified date later in 2005 in a building near Oak Point, Manitoba, Canada. We always hope for more contemporary and accurate details, but given the time between the actual event and receipt of the report, we are grateful for whatever information we get. No Louisiana hummingbirds of any species were found elsewhere this past winter.
A Buff-bellied banded and color-marked in Baton Rouge in late October appeared in Lafayette, approximately 60 miles to the west, less than two weeks later. The band was read photographically. However, this bird didn’t remain long in Lafayette and it was back at the original site by some time in December as it was recaptured at the original site on New Year’s Eve!
Even more intriguing, a Buff-bellied wearing the same color-mark was noted for 1 day at a different Baton Rouge site during the period between this bird’s known occurrences at the Lafayette site and the original site.
A new site in Baton Rouge proved to be both productive and interesting. The first hummer we caught there, an adult female Rufous, wore one of our bands. We immediately thought it was just moving around from one of our other sites in the same neighborhood. However, checking the band number, we discovered that it was a youngster when originally handled in Thibodaux in December 2005. Using the Bird Banding Laboratory formula for establishing age, this bird was 5 1/2 years old when we handled her in January 2011. She had never been recaptured before.
Members of 6 species returned to their previous winter haunts. Returnees exhibit uncanny navigational skills when they relocate their previous winter homes after flying hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. They are resourceful birds that prove their ability to survive winter in the Southeast. Long-term returnees provide longevity data and attest to the value of created or enhanced habitats.
Our oldest returnee, a female Rufous, was already an adult when she was banded in January 2005 in Reserve. Using the Bird Banding Laboratory formula for establishing age, this bird would have hatched no later than June 2003, indicating that she was at least 6 1/2 years old when she was recaptured in January 2011, not a record, but a very good age of a member for her species.
Some ‘younger’ returnees date back to 2007 and 2008. It is exciting and intriguing to see our birds coming back after a break of six months or more. We might wonder how far they have gone to find mates of their own kind.
None of our Louisiana hummingbirds was caught out of the state and we caught only a few out of state banders’ birds.
A Buff-bellied, captured in Harahan in early December 2010 proved to be a youngster that had been banded in Rockport, Texas, in early September by Bron Rorex. He joined several other members of the species at a particularly favored site. Although the fall northeastward movement of this bird may seem defy one’s general impressions of migration, it is well known that a small portion of the population moves northeastward rather than southward. Over the years, a number of Buff-bellieds have been documented moving between the central Texas coast and southern Louisiana.
More unusual was a Buff-bellied captured in Greenwell Springs in mid December. It was banded on St Simons Island, Georgia, by Doreen Cubie in January 2010, at which time, it was only the second record of the species for the Atlantic coastal state.
A female Rufous caught in early March 2011 in Moss Bluff proved to be one banded by Fred Bassett in Pensacola, Florida, in November 2009.
Weather can play a significant role in this project. Louisiana winters are generally mild compared to other sections of the United States. We do not usually band during sustained subfreezing temperatures or during heavy rain to avoid adding more stress to birds already striving to cope with inclement conditions. However, neither condition 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 2010-2011 did not cause any curtailments of our activities. Floral nectar was abundantly available throughout the area until a freeze knocked out a number of flowers in early December. Nevertheless, hummers were not completely dependent on handouts from humans. In fact, in some gardens, flowers are much preferred over feeders. Brief freezing conditions over much of the area scorched the landscape in January, driving hummingbirds to feeders, but still the availability of insect food ensured that hummers could make their livings very well.
Thanks to Our Friends
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 gives the Baton Rouge area much more effective coverage than it otherwise might have. Joan Garvey also gave a couple of days each week so banding was always very efficient. Frank Arthur, Lynn Becnel, Paul Conover, Eric Daigre, Tim Daigre, Miriam Davey, Dennis Demcheck, Tim Domingue, Bill Fontenot, Hans and Angela Holbrook, Erik Johnson, Bob Jumonville, Beth and Sammy Maniscalco, Craig, Sandra, and Megan Mineo, Rose and Jack Must [Wild Birds Unlimited, Lafayette], the Northshore Bird Club, John and Margaret Owens, Mike Roberts, Ron Stein, Melanie and Pat Stephens, Gene and Edna Street, Tom Trenchard, and Lizette Wroten all invested many hours in this project. We appreciate their special help very much.
Goodbye to Two Special Friends
Over the past winter, Louisiana’s hummingbirds and hummingbirders bid adieu to two very special friends, Olga Clifton of Abita Springs and Bob Jumonville of Lafayette.
Olga Clifton, long known as an advocate for nature and beauty, passed away after a long illness. She had reached out to many people, sharing her vast knowledge of Louisiana’s natural heritage.
Bob Jumonville, a long time hummer host and helper, passed away this winter hummingbird season. He freely shared his insightful observations of our hummingbirds.
Both will be long remembered by their friends.
Already, Louisiana’s hummingbird banders are looking forward to the next season, wondering what hummer delights might await. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org phone 337-232-8410 [home], 337-298-8447 [cell]
Linda Beall: email@example.com phone 985-893-5150 [home], 985-377-6160 [cell]
Nancy Newfield: firstname.lastname@example.org phone 504-338-3882 [cell]
Paul Dickson: email@example.com phone 318-798-1000 [home].
Nancy L. Newfield
Metairie, LA USA