After learning about hummingbirds, watching how they are captured for banding, and learning about the process and tools involved, we finally got to see a hummingbird in the hand, being banded. While we were at the Hummingbird Festival at Camp Sagawau, nine different Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were banded.
The bander, Vern Kleen, handled every bird with care and speed. You could tell he has banded many thousands of hummingbirds throughout the years.
In this short video, Vern bands a hummingbird and measures its wings.
After the bird was banded and the measurements were recorded, Vern allowed spectators to feel the birds heartbeat. A hummingbird’s heart can beat up to 1200 times per minute! The hummingbird groupies stood and held their hands out, hoping to have a chance to feel the precious bird’s heartbeat. Vern took each visitor’s hand and placed it gently on the chest of the little bird.
At first I thought this was a rather charming part of the festival. However, after a while I felt uncomfortable on behalf of the poor bird being passed around and felt up by dozens of groupies. I know Vern has been doing these festivals for many years and I believe in the work he is doing to educate the public about these birds, but the fact is that one of the birds banded that day at the festival died. This was discovered when the spectator who was allowed to release the bird was still holding the lifeless bird in her open hand several minutes after it was given to her. Vern tapped under her hand, fully expecting the bird to awaken and fly off, but instead it fell lifeless to the ground. This was rather a shock to see and I wasn’t keen to see any more birds being passed around so everyone could feel a hummingbird’s heartbeat.
Later we learned from other (non-hummingbird) banders at the festival that it was typical to lose about 1 bird in every 1000 that is banded. I am not sure what Vern’s record is but I imagine losing a bird at a festival must not happen too often, or he wouldn’t do it.
To end on a happier note, here is another of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds being released.