Monday, September 20, 2010

Harley Davidson Heartbeat

"Vroooom" continuously is what the bird's heartbeat sounded like, described rather accurately as the sound of a motorcycle humming [pun!] along by one of my fellow listeners.

I was at the San Pedro House, a visitor center at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, in southeastern Arizona.

The conservation area is along the San Pedro river and is a haven for hummingbirds, both resident and migrants. And I was visiting on a evening when the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) was conducting their weekly (April through September) hummingbird banding session.

Birds are captured when the soft netting is dropped around the feeder. The hunters (all men*) wait until one or more birds are engaged with the feeder at which time the trap is triggered by remote control.

Birds are then captured by hand and transferred to little holding cells. Most sit, seemingly relaxed, in the cell. But some, like this one, buzz about looking for an exit.

They are then transported to the information gatherers (all women*).

Here the birds are weighed, inspected, cleaned if need be, and banded. Each weekly two hour session bands approximately forty birds.

Up to this point only SABO personnel are involved. But the public is allowed (encouraged even) to hold the birds for release. So I did. Here I am, palm open, holding a very active hatch year male black-chinned hummingbird while the SABO volunteer attempts to settle him ...

... but he was having none of it and quickly continued on his way.

The volunteer tried to get me another, but that bird flew as soon as it was finished drinking. Oh well, I'll just have to go back ...

Most birds were quite calm, sitting in one's palm for several minutes. The SABO volunteer noted that the bird had not been harmed and had just prior to release a very nice drink, which might explain the serenity. (I can't help wonder though if the bird might not be in shock from the experience and need a moment to recover.)


This was my first bird banding of any kind. Holding such a tiny bird, ever briefly, is a curious experience. A wild creature, clearly with some intelligence, yet seemingly so fragile. An experience hard to put into words. Something you must try for yourself.

* I remarked about the hunter/gatherer division of labor to the women at the table and they all laughed. "They're at least more helpful than the male black-chinned" one remarked, "who essentially migrate north for a one night stand, and then head right back south again."


Anonymous said...

How interesting...I never knew they tracked hummingbirds (but I guess I have never thought about it)...can't even imagine a hummer's heartbeat!

Ron a.k.a. Danudin said...

Oh Steve, How could you A Critter Capture Conspirator, frightening those lovely little fellas and then allowing dirtu great lumps of lead to be affixed to their feet, oh the cruelty of it all, bet it was the camera you were clicking that scared them off!

Susan Gets Native said...

I have the utmost respect for banding (when it's done properly). So much data, collected over the past hundred years or so....dizzying.
Thanks to banding, we know that birds actually migrate instead of turning into mice for the winter (true story!).