Jul 1, 2005 | Marmot, Summer 2005

Banding Hummingbirds… No Small Task!

High up on the balcony of a chalet in the Alpine Village at Mount Wash-ington, while dawn breaks colorfully over Strathcona Park, Rufus hummingbirds congregate hungrily at a feeder.

Unbeknownst to the birds, a team of volunteer naturalists watch patiently as the fleeting birds ascend into a special feeder.

The naturalists are the Walker family, and every two weeks during the hummingbird season, mother Sue Walker bands the birds as a research project.

A certain number of hummingbirds are banded every year so naturalists can track their migratory patterns. The birds that Sue Walker bands have been found to migrate to Mexico for the winter.

Walker has two impressive backers who have taught her the art of bird banding. Cam Finlay is a master bander, and his wife is a naturalist who received the Order of Canada while working in Alberta. “He’s (Finlay) a very important person in all our lives,” Walker said. “We used to live down the street from them; they became honorary grandparents for the boys.

“Cam decided I should be the one banding birds up here.” Walker has a permit, but isn’t allowed to band hummingbirds without a master birder present. She and her family have been banding birds for the past three years: in 2004 they banded 134 (only one male) and recorded another 724 “visitors” (birds that aren’t captured).

Also in 2004, she recaptured a bird that had been banded in 2001 and 2003. “I thought that was really exciting,” she said.

Banding takes place at 5:30 a.m. The Walkers have a feeder with a trap that allows the birds to feed before a net is dropped. “We very quickly and carefully work with the bird. We wrap a little blanket around it,” Walker explains. “I try and take their measurements in less than a minute.”

They use handmade banding pliers that are made so they can’t accidently clip the birds’ legs. The miniscule leg bands are aluminum and their codes are recorded along with the sex and age of the bird.

“This is very good information for people all up and down the western coast,” she said. The oldest known hummingbird is eight years 11 months (recorded in the United States).

While Sue Walker holds the banding permit, the process is very much a family affair: sons Andy and Darien feed and release the birds from the trap feeder. Other son Stewart looks after the traps. Neighbor Kindle Parsons acts as a recorder.

“Our scientific station downstairs is very quiet and very respectful of the birds. It’s an unbelievably excellent opportunity for the boys,” Walker said.

“It’s quite an art form. Sometimes it’s so busy we end up having four, five, six birds lined up at once.”

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