Changing your tune in hummingbirds

This large humming bird has now been seen to have a song-learning ability paralleling the parrot or even a primate; Hummingbird image; Credit: © Shutterstock - See more at: Read more at

This large humming bird has now been seen to have a song-learning ability paralleling the parrot or even a primate; Hummingbird image; Credit: © Shutterstock

When we learn a song, we have a memory that is capable of remembering how to sing a new version at any age, but some animals remember at a sensitive period early in their lives. Songbirds seem to remember their twittery at this learning period as they begin their singing career, but the parrots have open-ended learning just like ourselves. They learn at any age. Some humming birds have just been discovered to learn their tunes in the same way as songbirds, but now we have evidence that they have the neural connections to be more advanced, and the long-billed hermit, can emulate the parrots and us!
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Volunteers research smallest, most misunderstood bird

IVINS – Volunteer researchers Ned Batchelder and Gigi Batchelder have dedicated the last 12 years to studying hummingbirds in an effort to increase understanding and awareness for the long-term preservation of these tiny winged creatures.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bird banding data is useful in both research and management projects. Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life span, survival rate, reproductive success and population growth.”

Ned Batchelder has had a lifelong interest in birds and, beginning in 1990, worked as a volunteer bird bander with the Hummer Bird Study Group in Alabama and other organizations in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Michigan and North Dakota. After retiring from a 30-year career in the natural gas industry, he and Gigi Batchelder began the process of training and certification to become federally licensed hummingbird banders, a status that only 150 researchers in North America have attained.

They have banded in eight states and were the first researchers to ever band a hummingbird in Nevada and Utah

Working as a team, the couple’s hummingbird banding efforts began in 2001 in Red Lodge, Mont. Since then, they have banded in eight states and were the first researchers to ever band a hummingbird in Nevada and Utah.

“There is more to hummingbirds than people think,” Ned Batchelder said. “They are some of the most misunderstood birds and we want to change and enhance the way they are viewed.”

The research process

The Batchelders operate under the supervision of the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. All data collected during banding is submitted to the North American Bird Banding Lab in Laurel, Md.

“We are volunteer citizen scientists,” Ned Batchelder said. “The data we collect is vital to the understanding and conservation of the species.

The process of catching, banding and safely releasing hummingbirds back into the wild must be fairly quick, for the sake of not keeping the bird from its natural habitat any longer than absolutely necessary. But meticulous attention to detail is also essential in order to gather complete data. Ned Batchelder explained his method in a series of simplified steps:

  • The bander sets up his work station in a pre-arranged location with likelihood for hummingbird traffic.
  • The bander (or in some cases, his assistant) rigs a birdcage with a feeder inside and a piece of fishing line on the gate running to their work station.
  • When a hummingbird enters the cage, the bander or assistant releases the line, closing the gate and trapping the bird.
  • The bander removes the bird from the cage and wraps it in a specially designed cloth sack that helps it feel protected and prevents it from injuring its wings or legs.
  • The bander documents the bird’s species, weight, length, age and gender through various physical characteristics that include the size of its beak and feather color.
  • The bander secures a tiny numbered band on the bird’s ankle.
  • The bander rewards the bird with a drink from a feeder for energy.
  • The bander releases the bird by allowing it to fly off his outstretched hand.
  • Ned Batchelder said the entire process is completely humane; he has never had a bird injury or casualty.

About hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds in the world, generally measuring 3-5 inches long and weighing less than a nickel. Despite their diminutive size, they can fly at speeds exceeding 35 mph and are the only birds with the ability to fly backwards. Hummingbirds can hover in midair by flapping their wings as fast as 80 times per second, creating the buzzing sound they were named for.

Mainly, the hummingbird diet consists of natural nectar from flowers, synthetic nectar from man-made bird feeders and small insects consumed in midflight. Pollinators, they can consume up to 12 times their own body weight in nectar by visiting hundreds of flowers in a single day. Hummingbirds spend about 10 to 15 percent of their time feeding and 75 to 80 percent sitting and digesting.

Hummingbirds possess many unique abilities, including the highest metabolic rate of any animal aside from insects. Their resting heart rate is about 250 beats per minute but can exceed 1,200 beats per minute while in flight. During the night or times when sufficient food is not available, hummingbirds enter a hibernation-like state called torpor that slows their metabolic, heart and breathing rates enough to conserve sufficient energy to survive without feeding.

Hummingbird nests, constructed in a safe place from roots, plant material, bark bits and bound with spider silk, are about half the size of a golf ball and hold two eggs

Like most birds, male hummingbirds have brightly colored feathers on their head, chest, neck or tail, while females have considerably less decoration. Hummingbird nests, constructed in a safe place from roots, plant material, bark bits and bound with spider silk, are about half the size of a golf ball and hold two eggs. Though these eggs are not large in relation to the eggs of other birds, they are when compared to the size of a female hummingbird; approximately one-third of her body weight.

Currently, populations are steady and hummingbirds are considered a species of least concern on The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Their main predators are outdoor cats. The average hummingbird lives three to five years, though some have been documented as living over a decade.

Hummingbirds only live in the Americas, ranging anywhere from southern Alaska to the tip of South America, including the Caribbean. Over 300 species of hummingbirds exist, but less than 25 are found in the United States. Most hummingbirds in the U.S. migrate south each fall to spend the winter in northern Mexico or Central America, though a few are yearlong residents.

Hummingbirds in Southern Utah

Though eight species have been spotted, only the Anna’s, Costa’s and Black-chinned Hummingbirds spend a significant amount of time and breed in Southern Utah. They typically begin breeding in early spring; most local hummingbird activity is observed during migration peaks in April, May, July and August.

The Batchelders initially selected Southern Utah as a hub for their research due to the plentiful supply of hummingbirds; they have banded as many as 500 birds at a single location during a six-month season. After moving to Ivins in 2012, they spent their first full year banding in the area. They regularly visit 15 locations between Snow Canyon State Park and the Kayenta community during peak times, many of which are private front or back yards with feeders that hummingbirds frequent.

One such yard belongs to Carla Ritter, a retiree living with her husband and dog in Ivins. Like the researching couple, she has a deep appreciation for birds and had been feeding and watching hummingbirds in her yard for years. She met Ned Batchelder via the internet in 2006 after posting hummingbird pictures that caught his interest. Now close friends, she loans him her backyard every afternoon during peak season and also assists in the research.

“I don’t let just anyone catch the birds, but Carla has a lot of bird science knowledge,” Ned Batchelder said. “If it weren’t for the homeowners who generously give us their yards to use, we couldn’t catch and study them.”

About 15 percent of the hummingbirds caught so far have been returning visitors

This year, the Batchelders are observing numerous occurrences of “site fidelity,” when they capture a hummingbird at the same location where it was banded in 2012. About 15 percent of the hummingbirds caught so far have been returning visitors.

Information like this is crucial to better understanding the migration patterns and life cycle of hummingbirds. Ned Batchelder said that either he or his wife has captured the same hummingbird in Southern Utah for the past eight years, making it one of the most senior they have ever encountered.

A bird banded in Kayenta on May 4 was found dead from striking a window over 180 miles away in Ely, Nev. on May 10, providing definitive proof that hummingbirds can travel 30 miles or more each day, an eye-opening discovery.

“There is a wealth of information to share about these magnificent winged creatures,” Ned Batchelder said. “As long as we are able, our study will continue.”

A hummingbird searches for nectar, Ivins, Utah, May 26, 2013 | Photo by Julie Morgan for St. George News

A hummingbird searches for nectar, Ivins, Utah, May 26, 2013 | Photo by Julie Morgan for St. George News

A hummingbird searches for nectar, Ivins, Utah, May 26, 2013 | Photo by Julie Morgan for St. George News

A hummingbird searches for nectar, Ivins, Utah, May 26, 2013 | Photo by Julie Morgan for St. George News

A caged hummingbird waits to be banded, Ivins, Utah, June 3, 2013 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

A caged hummingbird waits to be banded, Ivins, Utah, June 3, 2013 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

Measuring a hummingbird, Ivins, Utah, June 3, 2013 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

Measuring a hummingbird, Ivins, Utah, June 3, 2013 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

Ned Batchelder handling a hummingbird, Ivins, Utah, June 3, 2013 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

Ned Batchelder handling a hummingbird, Ivins, Utah, June 3, 2013 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News



Birds Built for Speed


Image: Mdf/Wikipedia

With their short wings relative to body size, hummingbirds are built for hovering. Their relatives, swifts, have super-long wings, built for gliding and high-speed flight. Their common ancestor, Eocypselus rowei, had wings sized between the two and they were built for… well, it’s hard to say.

“[Based on its wing shape] it probably wasn’t a hoverer like a hummingbird, and it probably wasn’t as efficient at fast flight as a swift,” says Daniel Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.

Ksepka and his colleagues discovered a fossil of E. rowei in southwestern Wyoming at a fossil site known as the Green River Formation. The small bird—only twelve centimeters from head to tail—lived about 50 million years ago. Feathers account for more than half of the bird’s total wing length.

The researchers compared the specimen to extinct and modern day species. Their analyses suggest that the bird was an evolutionary precursor to the group that includes today’s swifts and hummingbirds. “This fossil bird represents the closest we’ve gotten to the point where swifts and hummingbirds went their separate ways,” says Ksepka.

Their study was published last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The shape of the E. rowei’s wings, coupled with its tiny size, suggest that the ancestors of today’s swifts and hummingbirds got small before each group’s unique flight behavior came to be. “Hummingbirds came from small-bodied ancestors, but the ability to hover didn’t come to be until later,” Ksepka explains.

Closer study of the feathers under a scanning electron microscope revealed that carbon residues in the fossils—once thought to be traces of bacteria that fed on feathers—are fossilized melanosomes, tiny cell structures containing melanin pigments that give birds and other animals their color. The findings suggest that the ancient bird was probably black and may have had a glossy or iridescent sheen, like swifts living today. Based on its beak shape it probably ate insects, the researchers say.

Hummingbirds and swifts are two of many animals built for speed. Later this week, the Academy will open a new exhibit called Built for Speed, that will feature fast fishes and marine mammals.


Bird Notes | Winter and spring birds both making waves on the Strand

A male house fnch in fresh breeding plumage takes advantage of a seed feeder.By Gary Phillips — The Sun News

A male house fnch in fresh breeding plumage takes advantage of a seed feeder.
By Gary Phillips | The Sun News

A number of our earliest returning spring migrants are currently making their way into and through the area.

On March 13, Jack Peachey and I made quick trip check out to the sod farm at Bucksport and then to walk along the Great Pee Dee River on the north trail of the Yauhannah Tract of Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

While the sod farm occasionally hosts migrating shorebirds in spring and fall, the turf fields were too dry to offer any attractive habitat for shorebirds. A nice flock of tree swallows, another flock of yellow-rumped warblers, a lovely male Eastern bluebird and a handful of local resident bird species made the trip worthwhile.

The Yauhannah Tract offered observation of the construction of a new osprey nest site, with a female bringing a clump of nest material to the spot as we watched.

Farther along the trail, a male yellow-throated warbler appeared to be on territory, singing incessantly from the top of a tree in the edge of the river. This handsome little fellow was my first “spring” warbler of the season, and should soon be followed by a number of other tiny winged wonders making their way back from the tropics to claim customary spots for the upcoming breeding season.

Several folks have been happy to report winter finches taking advantage of their backyard feeders: American goldfinch, pine siskin and purple finch have all been noted of late.

Many winter sparrows remain in the area, although their numbers appear to have started decreasing. Baltimore orioles continue to avail themselves of hummingbird feeders, grape jelly and orange sections in area backyards.

Winter hummingbirds have begun to exit our area in order to return to their own breeding territories for the season. As is customary however, the first presumed returnee male ruby-throated hummingbird was reported last week from Georgetown County, right on schedule. The first of “our” returning ruby-throateds start to appear in the area in mid-March, with a more noticeable influx of arrivals the last week of March and first week of February.

Keep your feeder clean and maintained with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water with no other additives please, and let me know of the first hummingbird arrival to your backyard.

A reminder to report your first chimney swift sighting of the spring to: a reminder to keep a lookout for swallow-tailed kites and report any sightings you make this season to:

sources :


Western hummingbirds in the East–set your feeders out!!

featureImage_summaryEast of the Mississippi, it is well-known that there is only one expected hummingbird–the familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Ruby-throateds typically arrive in April and the bulk have departed by the first of October. However, any hummingbird seen after about 15 October is more likely to be a rare western species than a Ruby-throated! The excitement of one of these western visitors prompts many people to keep their hummingbird feeders hanging until late fall, or even all the way through spring. The yield is high; some homeowners as far north as New Jersey and Massachusetts have had multiple appearances by rare hummingbirds. Try your luck and set out a feeder; below we discuss the possible species, give some tips on attracting late hummers, and discuss the identification of difficult species.

NOTE:  The discussion below will focus on the East coast, but the trends discussed here are equally applicable to Canada, the Midwest, the Gulf Coast (rich in wintering hummingbirds), the West, and even south-coastal Alaska! It seems that anywhere that birders are willing to maintain feeders, late season hummingbirds may arrive.

Fall 2012 has been highlighted by very good numbers of Rufous Hummingbirds (see map here and zoom in for red points to see recent records), a Calliope near Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and an Allen’s Hummingbird in western Massachusetts since late October. Perhaps some other species will follow soon!

The appearance of these western hummingbirds is a phenomenon that has been realized only recently. Starting in the mid-1980s, each ensuing year has seemed to reveal more hummingbirds of more species in the late fall. In Maryland for example, one Rufous Hummingbird was recorded per decade from 1952 to 1981; in the 1980s there were two; from 1990-1993 there were four; from 1994-1997 there were seven; and from 1998-2000 there were eight. The trend has continued along this trajectory, with more Rufous Hummingbirds appearing in each subsequent year. The state’s first Calliope came in 2004, followed by one in 2006 and another in 2007; an Anna’s Hummingbird occurred in 2005. What will 2012 hold?

From October to January, Rufous Hummingbird is the most common species by far in the East, outnumbering other species by up to ten to one. This species, which may sometimes arrive on their breeding grounds in Alaska before the ice breaks, are particularly well adapted to cold weather. Females and immatures occur in the East with regularity from mid-October on, with arrivals peaking from mid-October to late November. Several individuals have wintered successfully as far north as Massachusetts, where one female (affectionately named “Rufy”) returned to successfully winter in a Bay State greenhouse for at least six years in a row (1996-2002). It appears that immatures that stray to the East and survive the winter are likely to return in the following year, and there are numerous records of banded birds reappearing in subsequent years. Several remarkable banded birds that have been captured in the Southeast and recovered near or on the breeding grounds (e.g., one Virginia Rufous was recovered in Montana, and was found back in Virginia the next winter!). Survivorship of such birds probably also account for increasing ratios of adults noted in the East. Some adult males may appear as early as July or early August, corresponding to their migration patterns in the West. Adult females arrive later (September or October, typically), while the immatures are the latest to appear. Rufous is certainly not the only species possible though–the pool of additional species is large. In addition to Ruby-throated and Rufous, three others have been recorded with regularity in recent years and eight others (13 species in all) have appeared at least once on the East coast: Calliope, Black-chinned, and Allen’s are all occurring annually (or nearly so) from North Carolina north; Broad-billed, Anna’s, and Broad-tailed all have multiple records, and Buff-bellied, Magnificent, and Green Violetear all have a handful. The rarest of the rare, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Green-breasted Mango have each occurred once, once, and twice, respectively. See Appendix A for help with identification and Appendix B for more detail on these species and their occurrence on the East coast.

It is worth pointing out, though, that late-season Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on the upswing as well. In the Carolinas, where wintering Ruby-throateds were once unheard of, the species now occurs regularly on several coastal Christmas Bird Counts where it is even more likely than Rufous Hummingbird. To the north, there are a growing handful of records of Ruby-throateds appearing at feeders in November, December, and even attempting to winter. So don’t rule out the expected summer hummingbird, but do remember that it may not be the most likely option after November.

Birders hosting rare western hummingbirds should consider having their hummingbird banded for species identification and to contribute to our body of knowledge on their movements. A fair number of hummingbirds ARE recovered. Note that one in Vienna, VA, in 2007 disappeared late in the season and moved 15 mi southwest. We know this only because of the banding efforts. Others in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are known to return to the same feeder year after year and the amount of fascinating information the banders down there generate is incredible. The danger to the bird is minute and the information to be gained is vast. Contact us ( or send a post to your local listserv to try to contact a bander in your area.


Birders hoping to attract any of these late season hummingbirds should get their feeders up NOW, and not take them down until mid-December or later.

A few tips:

* Put your feeder up near areas of good cover (especially evergreens like cedars, boxwoods, hollies, etc.) if possible. In cold weather hummingbirds will need these areas for roosting and the better the protection, the better for the bird. Weedy areas (such as those with lots of goldenrod) may hold insects which can provide good supplemental energy for the hummingbird as well.

* If cold weather (below freezing) is forecast, you should take your feeder inside at night and put it back out in the early morning. Some people have rigged up small heaters for their feeders to keep them thawed. Some have used a low watt heat lamp rigged up in an outdoor hanging fixture (like the lamps used raising baby chickens) with the feeder hanging under the lamp. Be aware that if the water in the feeder freezes, the hummingbird may not survive long.

* If you have any late season flowers those will help to attract late hummingbirds also, and may be better than a feeder at least as long as the flowers survive. By clipping blooms that appear early, you can manage your garden to peak later in the season. Several websites discuss hummingbird plantings and some also recommend which plants are hardy enough to last in cold weather. Various types of Salvia (Sage) are the perennial favorite late-blooming flower for hummingbirds, and may last into November in the Northeast. Particular favorites are the red-flowering Salvia spendens and Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans. Late fall hummingbirds have also been observed visiting Lobelias, Bee balm Monarda didyma, and jewelweed. Also Salvia leucantha (striking white flowers protruding from velvety purple calyces) known as Velvet Sage or Mexican Bush Sage, and Salvia guaranitica (blue) Anise Sage (Black and Blue is a favored variety) are excellent and may bloom until the first frost or beyond. Native trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens is another good late blooming hummingbird plant. Trellised in a protected spot, this may remain blooming and re-bloom in late autumn and winter warm spells. Blue-black Sage Salvia guaranitica is harder to find, but may bloom from May until the first frost. Turtlehead, both the wild white and the cultivated pink, bloom well into September and later even as far north as Maine.

* It has been suggested that hanging lots of red Christmas ribbon, red surveyor’s tape, and other red items around the yards may help to be sure that hummingbirds do not pass you by. Some believe the hummingbirds fly down pathways (like roads) and have trails of red leading from the road up to their house. It also might be a good idea to plant other late blooming flowers (like petunias and mums) even though they do not provide nectar for hummingbirds.