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Black-chinned Hummingbird, Calliope hummingbird, Rufous hummingbird
Research Projects: 
Hummingbird Project, Avian Ecology
Research Methods: 

This summer Eric Rasmussen opened a few days of hummingbird banding to the public. Eric is involved in many avian research projects at MPG, and over the past few years he developed hummingbird research here. This work required extensive training to learn the delicate handling of these little creatures. That eye for detail is made apparent by the jeweler’s glasses he wears to see the tiny feathers and fit bands measured in fractions of an inch.

The volunteers arrived in the early morning half-light to begin the day. Birders are a dedicated group and the uniqueness of this opportunity drew people in.

By the time we arrived at the work station, Eric and his crew were already busily trapping and banding. Apparently, the early bird isn’t restricted to just worms.

Montana is home to several species of hummingbirds, but our site sees just three: rufous, black- chinned, and calliope.

The first question most people ask is, ‘So how do you catch a hummingbird?’ The short answer is, “carefully” but the process goes something like this:

Researchers restrict the feeding station, which typically has five feeders in full swing, to two. This scarcity concentrates the birds on the feeders with nets. As the photo below shows, once the hummingbirds commit to feeding, the net drops. They are then delicately removed.

Researchers place the birds in soft mesh net bags. That way they are safely contained to await processing and banding.

Once in hand, Eric carefully takes various measurements to determine species, sex, age, and migratory health via stored fat.

Then comes banding. Eric fits each hummingbird with a tiny anklet that enables identification in the event of recapture. The bands are so small that if they didn’t stand out against the posts they’re stored on, they could go unnoticed.

After weighing each individual, visitors could carefully release them. It was a rare opportunity for volunteers to be so close to these amazing little birds.

About the Author

Joshua Lisbon

Joshua graduated from the University of Montana, Missoula, in 2009 with an M.A. in Intercultural Youth and Family Development. Joshua has designed and implemented wilderness and experiential-based education programs for various agencies since 2001. He has worked in Missoula since 2005 predominately with disadvantaged populations providing challenging and empowering programming for youth and adults alike.At MPG, Joshua works to coordinate with local agencies and school districts as well as the university to connect students and members of the community to MPG’s work. He also recruits and mobilizes volunteers to accomplish various projects for the ranch. In his free time, Joshua enjoys exploring Montana’s wild places. As an avid outdoorsman, he enjoys any pursuit that keeps him connected to the natural world.