KENNESAW — Smith-Gilbert Gardens gave a close-up look at hummingbirds in a demonstration Friday on how researchers capture birds and collect information to study them.
Julia Elliott, the owner of Bird Watching Supply Company who is known as the “hummingbird whisperer,” is one of a few people in Georgia certified to band hummingbirds — fitting a small band with an identifying number loosely to a bird’s leg. This is done through the North American Bird Banding Program, which is run in the U.S. by the Department of the Interior.
“We band birds for a couple of different reasons,” she said. “One, they all look the same and they don’t tell us their names, so it’s the only way we can identify individual birds. By banding them and giving them an identity, it allows us to track population, migration patterns, longevity, how long do they live, all kinds of good stuff by giving them that number.”
The hope is that someone else will eventually recapture the bird, giving them an idea of where it moved and how long it took to get there.
The first step after a bird is safely captured, she said, is to get a tiny aluminum band onto the bird’s leg — if the bird escapes before all the data is collected, at least some information is attached to the number on the band. Then, researchers take measurements and record other information like sex, age, and body fat content. Information is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland.
The recapture rate, or the chances that a banded bird will be found and captured again, is about 10%, Elliott said.
When Elliott is done collecting data, she gives the bird a chance to drink sugar water before it flies off.
Kennesaw Mountain is a migratory landmark for many different kinds of birds, including hummingbirds.
Elliott said only one species of hummingbird lives in the area when the birds breed and in the summer: the ruby-throated hummingbird, which in males are recognized by red, iridescent feathers on their necks. In the winter, as many as 13 species can be found that migrate from the northwest.
This time of year, the bird expert said, ruby-throated hummingbirds are putting on weight to get ready to migrate to Mexico and Central America, where they will spend the winter.
Data from banding birds over time has taught researchers things they wouldn’t know otherwise, including that the ruby-throated hummingbird has a strong population, even while other bird populations have been in decline.