Local

March 29, 2013

Hummingbird monitoring season begins on post

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Gabrielle Kuholski
Staff Writer

A male Anna’s hummingbird perches on a volunteer’s hand before flying away. Hummingbirds get that iridescent color from a melanin pigment. It is in the feather platelets that include air bubbles, which act like prisms giving off that metallic look to the feathers.

Sierra Vista is often called the hummingbird capital of the world, but according to the non-profit organization, Hummingbird Monitoring Network, or HMN, more than 25 hummingbird species are threatened or endangered. With hummingbird monitoring, HMN hopes to improve the hummingbird’s chances for survival. On Fort Huachuca, the monitoring started Sunday in front of the Public Affairs Office.

The process begins at dawn, when hummingbirds come to the feeders hungry. Net enclosures, mist nets, are put around the feeders to trap the hummingbirds. The trap raises and lowers like a curtain around the bird and feeder. Volunteers will operate the trap, but also record the amount of hummingbirds that visit the feeders and how many escape the traps.

The monitoring continues for five hours. Each hour the hummingbirds are trapped, they are banded and specific data is recorded on each bird. Laura Davis, citizen scientist and certified bird bander, examined and banded each hummingbird.

Davis said the bands come in strips from the banding lab run by the U.S. Geological Survey. The bands are different sizes due to some species of hummingbirds being larger than others. The bands are cut apart by a razor and bent into a “c” shape.

From right, Laura Davis, Hummingbird Monitoring Network citizen scientist, examines a hummingbird for an existing band. Lisa Siemsen, volunteer, records data on the captured hummingbird.

Wearing a magnifying headset, Davis measured the leg of each non-banded hummingbird and picked the appropriate size band. The band number was recorded and the band was secured around the bird’s leg, using custom pliers that close the band.

After each banding, Davis measured the length of the beak and wings. Lisa Siemsen, volunteer, recorded the data of each bird examined. Other information recorded included feather colors, body fat and weight. If the hummingbird that was captured was already banded, the band number was recorded and Davis continued to examine the bird.

In some cases, the same hummingbird made multiple visits to the feeders and was trapped more than once. In this situation, the bird revisit time was recorded and the bird was released.

Hummingbird monitoring would not be possible without volunteers. Along with Davis, three other volunteers assisted with the main duties of recording and capturing the hummingbirds. The volunteer group has veterans who come year after year to help. For Laura Clawson, budget analyst for the U.S. Army Garrison, this is her fifth year as a volunteer and she hopes in the future to continue with the group assisting in a higher capacity.

“I’ve been thinking about banding certification,” Clawson said.

This certification would allow Clawson to band and examine the hummingbirds.

Stephen and Lisa Siemsen, volunteers, set up net traps around the hummingbird feeders on Sunday at dawn in front of the Fort Huachuca Public Affairs building. The traps allow the hummingbirds to be captured so they can be banded and data can be collected.

In addition to the volunteers, visitors come and go during the five hours to watch the progress. Morgana Biddix, family readiness support assistant for the 11th Signal Brigade, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, visited along with her son, 20-year-old Brandt Biddix.

While living on post, the family kept up to six hummingbird feeders. She mentioned that watching the hummingbirds is a beautiful, spiritual experience.

Her son, who has volunteered in the past, was not afraid to step up and help capture the hummingbirds.
“I like how much fight they have for their size,” he said.

Becoming a hummingbird monitoring volunteer has become a positive experience for the Williams Family as well. Angel Williams said it was her daughter who, one year, wanted to come and see the hummingbird monitoring on post. She likes how much knowledge her daughter and son take away from the activity.
Williams became a volunteer to fill the hummingbird feeders. She noticed from her own hummingbird watching that the same birds tend to visit the same feeders.

“[The hummingbirds] have a preference,” Williams said.

Hummingbird monitoring takes place every other Sunday in front of the Fort Huachuca Public Affairs office until mid-October. Those interested can visit http://www.hummonnet.org/how_to_help/volunteer_ft_huachuca, or call 1.520.792.0980 for the schedule or to volunteer.




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