Leg bands help researchers track hummingbirds’ migration pattern

Weekend Extra

DICKSON, Tenn. (WKRN) – This time of the year, many of you may enjoy watching hummingbirds feeding in your backyard.

But pretty soon they will be flying south for the winter.

It’s hard to believe that these tiny birds that beat their wings 60 to 80 times per second are going to fly all the way across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America for the winter. 

So researchers are interested in the migration patterns of these fascinating birds.  

Wednesday at The Ruskin in Dickson experts were putting bands on hummingbirds to see what kind of routes they fly.

Cyndi Routledge of Southeastern Avian Research, who is licensed by the federal government to band the birds, gave us a few insights.

“Last year I banded a bird in Clarksville, and it was found in Monroe, Louisana, three weeks later.  So that told me that that little three-gram bird put on some weight and flew down south, on its way south.”

Hummingbird tracker
(Photo: WKRN)

So how do they catch the birds to band them? 

They have a cage with a hummingbird feeder in it that has a remote control trap door.  So once the bird goes in, they push a button, the door closes, then they very gently secure the bird and put him in a bag and bring him over to the table to put a tiny band on his leg.

Once the birds begin migration, other “banders” across the country keep a lookout for any pre-banded birds. If they find one, they report it to a central agency that in turn notifies the banders where and when their bird was found.  Maps are drawn up of the migration routes.  In the future, they hope to have GPS technology that is small and light enough do the job. 

Their return trip each spring is just as arduous as their migration south each fall.

“They launch off and they make an 845 mile nonstop 18 to 20-hour journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Then they hit the coast. They are tired, they are hungry. But if you were born in southern Canada, you have another thousand miles to fly before you get to where are you going to build your nest,” said Routledge.

Routledge said that the birds often return to the same place each summer. She said many of her birds have returned to the Ruskin in Dickson.

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