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Old Jun 21, 2004, 10:12 AM   #1
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These two Black-chinned Hummingbird nestlings are 16 and 17 days old and nearly ready to fledge from the nest. The nest is in a location which has been used by one adult female for the past three years. It is in a red delicious apple tree in our orchard, precisely tree number A15x5. Hummers like orchards and the measured rows of trees form a grid which gives us a unique opportunity to study the spacial relationships of the nesting birds. As a licensed master bird bander I am studying hummingbird nesting and behavior as no one has before. For several years I have captured, banded and uniquely color-marked several thousand hummingbirds of nine species in five states to study various aspects of their biology.

Because of potential risk to the birds, I generally discourage nest photography unless there is a particular and justifiable purpose for it. I post this image which I took yesterday of a nest I have been monitoring as part of a study. Shortly after, I banded and measured the birds, then replaced them in the nest.

The nest is fairly fragile, constructed of plant down and woven together with spider silk which gives the nest flexibility to expand as the young grow. The female camouflages the nest with bits of leaf and bark.

In the "fall" migration of late July and August, I am fortunate to attract several thousand individual hummingbirds each day to my yard and gardens. This gives me an opportunity to get a few hummingbird photos.

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Old Jun 21, 2004, 10:31 AM   #2
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Hummer, that is definitely a photo op which most never get an opportunity for. Thanks for including us in on the uniqueness of it. You are definitely in an enviable position (from my perspective anyways). I've seen dozens of hummingbirds at feeding stations at one time, but I can't even imagine a concentration of thousands of hummingbirds in the area you are talking about. Wow.

Could you let me in on how many species of hummers you've been able to observe on your property over the years?
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Old Jun 21, 2004, 11:21 AM   #3
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Geoff, the Black-chinned is the only breeding hummingbird here in the Grand Valley but we do get Broad-tailed Hummingbirds in the north and south bound migrations. They nest in the mountains, about 12 miles away. We also have good numbers of Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds beginning around the fourth of July, as they are heading south through CO to Mexico and Central America for winter. A friend and fellow humbander on Vancouver Island tells me that the Rufous are now on their way south.

In November 2002, I captured this Broad-billed Hummingbird about 2 miles from our farm (note the numbered band on her left leg). It is the first Colorado record of this species, which normally occurs in Mexico and extreme southeast Arizona. I was not, however, able to band the bird as it had already been banded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the previous January--about the 20th record of the species in that state. Interestingly, another friend in Idaho recently banded an adult male Broad-billed, a first for Idaho. It may be because of global warming that we are seeing many southern species moving farther north.

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Old Jun 21, 2004, 12:47 PM   #4
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As far as hummingbirds go, it sounds like you've got a fairly rich number of species coming through your area, even if only 1 of them breeds in your locality. In most people's books, unless you live in the southwest US or tropics, 4 regularly occurring species, with some occasionals, counts as diversity.

I'd find it an interesting research project to try and determine to what extent the occasional records of species outside of their range is due to "free-spirited" individuals rather than an indication of the extension of a species' range. Obviously, it couldn't be claimed that a species was extending it's historical range unless there was either an established record of sightings of more than one individual (what would a reasonable threshold be here?) outside that historical range, or if breeding pairs could be confirmed outside the historical range. Banding information, which you are being instrumental in helping to establish and provide, is surely going through statistical analysis to answer questions like these.

When I was an undergraduate in wildlife studies, and because of my parallel interest in computers and technology, I was very interested in the possibilities for radio or satellite telemetry for bird studies. Unfortunately, at the time (mid-1970's) the technology either wasn't there or was too immature to allow this. Now, microminiaturization should soon see fit to provide the ability for a transmitter on birds even the size of a hummingbird. I'd love to someday get involved with that...
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Old Jun 22, 2004, 4:24 PM   #5
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The accidental occurence of some out of range birds could well be the harbingers of trends to come, but only time and study will tell. That's one reason we are doing banding studies. The increase of western hummingbird species wintering in the southeastern US has been well documented over the past decade, thanks to a few dedicated humbanders there. While bird banding has been in existence for a hundred years, hummingbird banding is in its infancy with little more than twenty years of data accumulated. Miniature transmitters for hummingbirds will come, but I think it will be a long time before suitable equipment will be available to us. There is just no money to drive the development.

Here's a nestling pair in apple tree # A9x2. We use a small hand mirror to safely and quickly check the progress of a nest. Note the apple in the right side of the image, and the hummer droppings on the leaves and branch near the nest.

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Old Jun 23, 2004, 12:14 AM   #6
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So, as I scrolled down the page and gradually revealed more of the picture where a mirror was being held up to view the nest and young hummers, your (or someone's) hand came into view and the real magnitude of the scale became apparent. It just never ceases to amaze me how small hummingbirds really are.

I can certainly understand how money for hummingbird research could be in short supply as there are certainly very pressing needs for research money in lots of areas of research. It seems that these days the key to unlocking a greater flow of money is to somehow be able to link the research of a particular thing (hummingbirds, for example) to an issue which is of more immediate importance to us humans. So, if somehow the range expansion of hummingbirds could be used as a barometer of let's say, amount of rainfall in a locality (thus affecting things like farming trends), money would be easier to come by. I'm just talking to myself here as I am sure you are more than aware of these types of things. Oh, well...
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Old Jun 23, 2004, 1:46 PM   #7
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I can't imagine how great it must feel to have one of these little ones in hand. I'm still amazed at their size and the fact that such a tiny little thing can survive the predators lurking about.

For instance, in the exact area where I photographed my hummingbirds a crow sits perched atop a large tree, waiting to pounce. In fact I got a recent photograph of a squirrel perched on a limb a few feet in front of me, frozen. I thought he was freezing because of me but soon after that crow landed a few limbs away, the squirrel lept on to another trunk and stretched out full vertically onit (opposite side to the crow)trying to become a part of the trunk. It remained frozen, tail bristling but still, until the crow left about 30 seconds later(probably because it saw me). Thenthe squirreltook off like a shot. I got photos of this little event but they didn't turn out well because everything happened in a very dark space at sundown.

How the hummingbird can survive in such a predatory world amazes me.
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Old Jun 23, 2004, 5:53 PM   #8
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It is indeed a wonderful wildlife experience to hold a hummingbird, or any bird, in the hand. Their warmth, the throbbing rhythm of their breathing, the claws grasping, all give you a sense of them as beings. They are not so unlike us, but hummers are most remarkable with the largest heart, the largest brain, lungs, kidneys, and breast muscles of all animals, proportionate to their size.

Today, 6-23-04, the nestling birds in the first picture fledged their nest and are on their way to new adventures. Juvenile Black-chinned hummers give a high-pitched "seep" call after fledging so that their mother can locate and feed them for up to two weeks. This is a time they are most vulnerable, but in general, because of their size and agility, hummingbirds are not so affected by predation as many other birds are.

Keep working on those hummingbird photos, Norm. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are very rare in Colorado, and I love seeing good photos of them. Btw, one of our banded Rufous Hummingbirds was recently recovered just west of you, in Panorama, British Columbia. Be on the lookout for the Rufous, they are headed your way right now.

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Old Jun 24, 2004, 10:46 AM   #9
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Thanks for the info Hummer. Perhaps you could give me a tip or two on how to find the "female?" I've been reading that the female usually nests away from where the male stakes feeding territory, and sometimes it's near water. This area whereI'm photographing the Ruby is farther away from the lake than where I usually photograph. It perches about 8 feet up over a very flowered area, from what I've read guarding his territory. However, also from what I've read I gather that this is probably not the best place to be looking for the female. Correct?
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