Banding a Toothpick!
Talking With Sarah Driver, Hummingbird Bander
Clouds of Hummers
Driver's hummingbirds come to Ozark, Missouri the first week of April.
stay through the first or second week in October. She bands hummers
throughout those months, whenever she can take time from her
a nurse. Sarah says, "I often see 100 birds at a time; I have 30 feeders
out and use three gallons of sugar water a day at peak season. I
have hummers all summer, and I can see a couple dozen at a time.
But the first or
second week in August the numbers just explode. It's unbelievable.
Hummers are here in clouds, just like swarms of bees."
Sarah Driver bands a Ruby-throated Hummingbird
First Step: Trapping
Clouds of hummers make Sarah's job easier, because
the first step in banding is to trap the hummers. Sarah
tells how she does
it. "We have a special trap we catch hummers in. Banders use
several styles of traps. Ours is shaped like circus tent
with a feeder inside, and it's covered with a curtain of
fine netting. We can raise
and lower the curtain with a fishing line. The hummer flies in
we drop the curtain. I've caught up to 7 or 8 hummers at
a time. The curtain traps the bird inside. Then we come to
reach our arm in through
slit in the curtain. We gently grab the hummer and take it out
of the trap. I have a little square piece of cloth with a
hole in the center.
I call it a nightshirt. I put this little night shirt on
the bird and that's my way
of detaining it. My great uncle taught me this technique. I hold
the hummer on its back with its little feet sticking up."
Like Banding a Toothpick
a hummer," says
Sarah, is like "banding a toothpick." The USFWS Bird Banding
Laboratory supplies banders with lightweight aluminum bands.
Each band is stamped with one letter and five numbers. Sarah
cuts and pre-forms them
from the flat
sheet of bands sent by the bird banding lab. Sarah uses special
band-making equipment to cut and form each band.
"After cutting the bands, I lay them all out in numbered order. It's
a big job to form such tiny strips into semicircles. I slip the band
on the hummer's leg and crimp with a pliers." Sarah
uses a needle-nose pliers with a little round hole in the tip
so the band can be closed without flattening it. The band must
be loose enough
to turn, but small enough so it won't fall off. Not easy on a
leg the size of a toothpick!
"I make sure the band turns. Then I have a sheet to fill out for the lab:
date, location, male or female, adult or juvenile, and the banding number.
That's all the lab wants."
Sarah records the banding information, she takes the little
off and releases the hummer. "Often we'll give them a little
drink from a feeder on the table for their cooperation in the banding."
How long does it take? "I can have this done within a couple minutes.
It doesn't stress the birds terribly. I know because I've had the
same bird I just banded show up in the trap a few minutes later!
Banding is just a
minor inconvenience for them."
Becoming a Master Bander
was trained in bird banding by her great uncle
James Johnson. He was a master bander. As a child,
Sarah watched how he trapped and banded birds. "To
be a master bander you have to first be a sub-permitee, banding
under a master bander
until that master
feels you are competent to be a master. When you submit for a
master license, the master bander has to recommend you." Sarah
learned as her uncle's sub-permittee. She got her permit
through him in 1986. "Even
then," says Sarah, "the bird banding
laboratory doesn't automatically give you a
master license. They are hesitant to give out too many permits."
are issued by the USFWS. Banding hummers is very specialized because
these birds are so tiny. Master banders trap and band the
birds, then mail all
their data to the US Geological Survey at the USFWS Bird Banding
Laboratory in Laurel, MD. The bird banding laboratory has
fewer than 50 master hummingbird
banders in the US. Can you see why?
Try This! Journaling Question
qualities are important for a hummingbird bander? Think about
Sarah's story. Look for clues when you visit the Websites of
other banders of ruby-throated hummingbirds:
1. Bob & Martha