Yesterday, Justine and I had the opportunity to join in on some hummingbird banding just down the road in Huntingdon County. We were not sure what to expect as the forecast was calling for 90% chance of rain all day. We had some torrential rainfall at the very beginning but it soon cleared off around 10:30am and by the time we left at 3pm that afternoon, there was a clear blue sky with big fluffy white clouds.
We ended up catching a total of 65 hummingbirds, including 4 hummingbirds that already had bands on. Two of these previously banded birds were from last year at the same site; the other two hummingbirds could be from anywhere so I will have to wait and see what the banding lab says about where they were banded. It’s incredible to think how the hummingbirds that were banded at the same site not only returned to the same location a year later, but in that time crossed the Gulf of Mexico twice.
For those of you not familiar with catching or banding hummingbirds, just picture a big bird cage with a hummingbird feeder hanging on the inside. There is a trap door which they can fly through to get to the feeder and then one of the trappers can hit a remote switch to slide the door shut after them.
It was incredible watching the hummingbirds swarming around the feeders at the house where we were banding. At any single point we could see 1-2 adult males and at least 30-40 female/immature hummingbirds swirling around the feeders. Doing a rough calculation, we caught ~14 adult males and usually only saw one or two at a time. If that ratio holds for the other age/sex classes, there are about 10 hummingbirds in the area for each hummingbird that is at the feeder at any one time. So, ~35 birds at any one time means that there were probably 350 hummingbirds in the area that were coming to the feeder.
You might be wondering how there can be such a large concentration of hummingbirds in one area, especially in Pennsylvania which is so far away from the Gulf Coast or se Arizona where busy feeding stations are the norm. Well, the location is likely important because it is along a stream and right up against a ridge, meaning there is an endless supply of breeding areas and food. The home owner also keeps 3-5 large hummingbird feeders filled at all times. Often with a single feeder, one hummingbird will be very territorial and defend that feeder from all others. When there are more feeders, it seems to overwhelm their ability to defend and it just becomes a crazy free for all.