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Open Mic: Idaho’s Humbanders and Their Discoveries

At the Mic: Elise Faike

In the early 2000s, Stacy Jon Peterson and Fred Bassett arrived in Idaho within a week of each other and started banding hummingbirds. With several assistants, they explored Idaho’s hummingbird inhabitants throughout the state. I first met them when Stacy accepted an invitation to visit my home in Challis in 2004. It was fascinating to watch him capture hummers on my back deck and band them right on my dining room table! The coolest part was holding the tiny creatures for release. Their rapidly beating hearts felt electric on my palm.

Stacy and I visited neighbors and friends nearby to see what hummers are here. When he couldn’t return to Challis in 2006, Fred came instead and brought along Carl Rudeen. They also banded in North Fork and Gibbonsville, where they caught a hummer in 2006 that was banded two months before in Montana, thus defining a previously unknown southward migration route.

They found that Idaho has five commonly occurring hummingbird species: Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Rufous, Calliope, and Anna’s. The first four occur during summer months and Anna’s often overwinter at heated feeders. Others rarely seen or captured in Idaho include Broad-billed, Costa’s, Ruby-throated, and the infrequent hybrid. Except for Anna’s, Idaho’s hummers primarily winter in Mexico.

The author holds a Rufous Hummingbird captured at the Rudeen Ranch Hummingbird Roundup in southeastern Idaho

While many bird banders will choose a location and return annually, Idaho Humbanders also like going wherever the hummers are, when circumstances allow. Early on they hadn’t yet selected many project areas, except the Rudeen Ranch in Southeastern Idaho in 2003, one of the first places they banded. Now they concentrate their efforts throughout southern Idaho, mostly at private homes.

Paycheck. Fred pays a hummer after banding it.

Both Stacy and Fred were master banders when they came to Idaho. Stacy added Carl Rudeen as a sub-permittee on his permit in 2006, Fred trained him, and Carl has since attained his master bander status.
Carl grew up on his family’s ranch watching hundreds of hummers, always wanting to study them. He’s conducting research on spatial hummingbird biology and populations at Rudeen Ranch and will eventually publish a summary of data from the ranch. He also continues to monitor Anna’s Hummingbirds and believes there is a range expansion by that species into southwestern Idaho. He has noticed more summer observations of Anna’s which were previously only found in Idaho during the winter.

Jessica Pollock is Idaho’s newest Humbander. She was an experienced Humbander when she arrived from British Columbia in 2011 to work as Research Biologist at Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO). IBO conducts ongoing songbird and raptor projects on Lucky Peak and elsewhere, but didn’t yet have a Humbanding program until Jessica initiated one. (Such small birds require different banding skills, procedures, and permits than other birds, although if one was caught, data were collected and stored in house without banding it.) Jessica is a sub-permittee of IBO’s master permit. She also bands songbirds, owls, and large raptors.

Jessica

It took Jessica only two seasons to find the perfect project area: private land near Idaho City with an unusually high concentration of breeding Calliopes, where in 2012 she established a unique long-term research endeavor to study them. It’s the only breeding Calliope station in the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, which tracks all species at sites in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (http://www.hummonnet.org/index.html).

Interesting Idaho Discoveries

Idaho Humbanders have observed some cool things about hummingbirds. Jessica once caught a gravid Calliope at Idaho City and could see the egg through its skin, then recaptured her a couple of hours later and the egg was gone! Jessica remarked, “She was healthy and energetic and I’m sure she’d just laid her egg in a nest nearby.”

Carl has noticed how tough and resilient hummingbirds are. “Birds really aren’t as fragile as you’d think,” he says. “It’s still snowing when they show up in spring, migrating tremendous distances through extreme weather.”

Carl and Stacy have learned that, “a fairly high proportion of the population is long-lived”. Before closing the last trap at Rudeen Ranch in 2010, Stacy recaptured #N05909, a Black-chinned first banded there as an after-hatch-year bird in 2003, which made it 8+ years old. They recaptured it every year until then!
Jessica also “recaptured a male Calliope on April 27, 2016 that we initially banded in 2012 and we have caught him every single year since 2012. He was an adult in 2012, so he is at least 5 years old and likely older”.

Carl with Black-chinned Hummingbird

Several other 8-year-olds have also been recaptured at Rudeen Ranch. In 2015, Stacy recaptured #N57688, another after-hatch-year Black-chinned first banded in 2004, making it more than 11 years old. It was recaptured six of 11 years. “About 30% of the birds we catch are returns from previous bandings at the ranch,” Carl says. “More old birds could be out there.”

Fred bands birds all over the country, which gives him a good overview of hummer populations nationwide. Bergmann’s Rule (usually applied to mammals) holds that animals are bigger in the north than the south, because larger individuals can withstand colder temperatures better, and he’s discovered that “Black-chinned Hummingbird sizes get larger as you go north. The largest ones are in Idaho. All other hummer species are the same sizes.”

Idaho’s Humbanders always look forward to their next banding sessions; they know their next exciting discovery is only a matter of time. It will be interesting to learn more about hummingbird natural history and behavior as their research activities continue in Idaho.

–=====–

Elise Faike is a geologist and adventure travel planner who lives in Challis, Idaho, with her husband Dave and little Blue Heeler Tater. She enjoys birding and watching wildlife locally and around the world. She also likes holding and releasing banded birds whenever possible for her “Birds Held” list.

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