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The Greater Yellowstone Area is the only remaining large biologically intact temperate ecosystem in North America, comparable in size and diversity to Africa’s Serengeti!Learn More

A Lot of Humming Going On

Posted On
Jul 17, 2015
Category
Animals near Yellowstone

Description

By Bill Schiess


A male Calliope rests on a child's hand before heading off to feed again.

The aerial attack by the tiny bombers were fast and furious with the metallic buzzing coming too close for comfort. At times one of the action figures hovered only a few inches away if an observer got too close to the targets – sugar water. Nesting hummingbirds were using the high octane fuel to keep enough energy to find and collect their favorite food – spiders.

Northeast of Inkom near Pocatello was the site of air attacks by three different species of hummingbirds. Jeff and Cathy Oesterling hosts a banding operation in early June for the Black-chinned, Broad-tailed and Calliope hummingbirds that invade their home each summer. 

A Broad-tailed hummingbird feeds on sugar water as a male Calliope flies in the background.“We really don’t know how many hummingbirds come each day, but we go through a pound of sugar every day feeding them,” said Jeff as he watched the birds buzzing around the feeders. “In 2006 we thought we had about 25 and asked Fred Bassett to come and band them. In two days we banded over 300 birds so we had a lot more than we thought.”

Fred Bassett is a renowned bird researcher who helped organize the Hummingbird Research, Inc. to study how the birds migrate, how long they live and their general health. By banding thousands of birds each year, Bassett and his fellow researchers are insuring the continued existence of these beautiful birds. In two days this year 302 birds were handled with 66 being recaptured from previous years and two were “foreign” captures, meaning they were not banded by Bassett. Of the new 236 banded hummers 126 were Calliope, 56 were Broad-tailed and 54 Black-chinned.

This is Bassett’s tenth season banding with the Oesterlings and in most of those seasons he makes two stops as he will return this year again in August to band many young birds after they have fledged.

“I usually start each winter banding in the southeastern states like Florida and Alabama,” said Bassett as he recorded the number from a banded bird that he had placed six years ago near Inkom. “I make my way north and west usually ending in Alaska before heading south again, getting back home in Alabama in December. I band 12 months a year and do as many as I can.”

After banding the tiny birds, Bassett would let the children release them back into the wild.The oldest banded bird Bassett has seen was a 10 year old Broad-tailed in Boise that was captured at the same house it had been banded at a decade earlier. The oldest ever captured was a 12 year old by one of Bassett’s partners. Some birders believe hummers have a lifespan of seven to eight years, but Bassett believes the average is about half of that.

Of the three species that breed locally, all inhabit the same areas. The Broad-tailed is the largest and the males make the metallic buzzing sound with their wings as they try to attract the ladies. It has a ruby-red throat much like the Ruby-throated that lives in the East. The smallest of all USA birds is the Calliope with its stripes of red and white on its throat. The Black-chinned appears to have a black throat, but as the sun hits the underside of the neck, a brilliant purple color is reflected.

Rufous hummingbirds do not nest locally, but stop in the Upper Valley in May on their way north and return here as they migrate south in August through September. Last spring a Rufous was banded in Florida on January 12 and was recaptured near San Diego, California on April 17, traveling over 1900 miles in just over three months.

Locally the campgrounds around Heise Hot Springs attract a lot of hummingbirds during the summer with Spencer being another good place to see them.  Scout Mountain campground southwest of Pocatello hosts several thousand each August and September as they prepare to migrate south.