Special to The Morning Star
Hummingbirds were the topic as the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club (NONC) held its monthly meeting in October.
The evening’s speaker was NONC member Gail Loughridge, who talked about hummingbirds.
Gail began to capture and help put bands on hummingbirds when she lived in Victoria. In 2002 she moved here with her husband; and in 2004 she became qualified to form a team and begin banding birds in Vernon. She and her team are truly “citizen scientists” who provide a lot of important information to the professionals!
Hummingbirds are banded in order to learn more about them. Banding allows scientists to obtain large amounts of data that is unavailable any other way. Scientists are then able to track the number of hummingbirds, and to determine their migration routes.
Three species of hummers are found in the Okanagan: Calliope, Rufous, and Blackchin; and information is recorded on all of them. The number of Rufous hummingbirds has been declining for decades; and this past summer there was a significant drop in all three species – not just in Vernon, but across North America. The reason for the decline in numbers is not yet known, but one hypothesis suggests that, as our climate grows warmer, the insect larvae are hatching at the wrong time for the migrating hummingbirds. Another theory suggests that habitat loss is also responsible.
The Rufous hummingbird migrates each year, from as far north as Alaska, to the southern U.S. and Central America. Scientists speculate that the Rufous crosses into Alberta from British Columbia, and flies south down the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. Birds that have been banded in Dunster, B.C., have been caught in Texas; and then have been caught on their return flight back in Dunster, for three years in a row.
This past July a hummingbird that Gail had banded three years previously in Vernon was caught just north of Fort Davis, West Texas. The little bird had travelled about 3,400 km twice a year for three years in a row!
The experts say that hummingbirds are site specific. They come back to the same site in B.C. to breed every year. The numbers on their bands are recorded, and every year birds are caught at sites which they have visited the previous year — sometimes on the same day as the year before! Gail caught a bird on Westside Road at the same site at which it had been banded five years earlier.
Gail finished her talk by thanking the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club for sponsoring the hummingbird banding program, and stating that anyone interested in helping band hummingbirds in 2012 can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barbara Harris is a member of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.