The Rufous hummingbird  is the most common species in western Canada

The Rufous hummingbird is the most common species in western Canada

Club monitors hummingbirds

The North Okanagan Naturalists' Club welcomes new members to join in the Saturday banding of hummingbirds

Are you interested in hummingbirds? Did you know that the smallest hummingbird, the bee hummingbird, is only five cm long? Did you also know that hummingbirds can not only stop in mid air and hover, but can actually fly backward, the only group of birds able to do so? And did you know that hummingbirds, which can fly at speeds in excess of 34 miles per hour, migrate by themselves, as far as 4,000 kilometres? If you find these facts interesting, and would like to help scientists learn more about hummingbirds, then read on.

Gail Loughridge, the local head bander, moved here in 2002. She started banding in Vernon in 2004.

“I was asked by Cam Finlay, a master bander from Victoria, to start banding here,” said Gail. “He really wanted an Interior location. He came and helped me band around Vernon; and in two days I banded over 75 birds.”

Initially, we banded two species, Rufous and Calliope, but there was a new arrival, the Blackchinned hummingbird. Alarmingly, the Rufous population, the most common species in Western Canada, has been declining for more than 40 years. This pattern is disturbing to ornithologists, as extinction of bird species is occurring at an alarming rate.

Fossil records show that, on average, just one species of birds was lost every century. Today, between one and 10 species of birds are thought to become extinct every year.

Banding in the North Okanagan gathers information for two different scientific studies, the Hummingbird Project of BC, and the Hummingbird Monitoring Network. The Monitoring Network was set up by Susan Wethington, an ornithologist in Arizona, because she was approached by the American Department of Agriculture. They were concerned about the loss of hummingbirds, who are extremely important pollinators for crops in North America. The Hummingbird Project of BC (HPBC) is committed to the preservation of hummingbird species and their habitats throughout Western Canada. It also supplies information to the Canadian Wildlife Service, which keeps track of hummingbird locations, populations, and species decline throughout Canada.

The Hummingbird Monitoring Network surveys hummingbird populations every two weeks, according to a set protocol.

Both the Monitoring Network and the Hummingbird Project are working to determine population trends, and to increase public knowledge about hummingbirds, so that people will promote and assist with habitat protection.

Gail feels strongly about the need to collect data for both of these groups.

“One never knows which bird will be the one that has previously been caught elsewhere in North America; or has been returning to the same spot for many years; or is wearing a band from Arizona,” she said.

“Therefore our job, as citizen scientists, provides invaluable information to ornithologists throughout North America.”

The hummingbird banding group, an offshoot of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club, is looking for more participants. Banding takes place on Saturday mornings, as well as on occasional week nights, from early May to the end of July. New members would help with catching the birds, as well as recording information about them, and would be asked to come and help twice a month.

Please contact Gail at kalliope@shaw.ca, or 250-545 7455 for more information.