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Hummingbird Magic In Kalamazoo

Anyone who has a hummingbird feeder – or the right kind of flowers - in their yard has probably wondered at the tiny birds they attract. But two biologists in Kalamazoo County are doing much more. They’re helping keep track of hummingbirds by catching and banding them.

Rich and Brenda Keith from the Kalamazoo Nature Center say catching a hummingbird isn't especially easy. They use two kinds of traps "passive" traps. One is just a regular hummingbird feeder with some netting hung over it using several peony hoops. These's a small hole that lets the birds flying in. When the Keiths approach, the birds fly up out of habit, allowing them to reach in and carefully retrieve the bird.

Then there's rather ominous-sounding “guillotine” trap. However, it’s just another feeder inside a metal cage. When a hummingbird flies in, Keith uses a garage door controller to close the hatch, trapping the bird.

Catching hummingbirds isn’t easy and it’s not something just anyone can do. Brenda Keith says it takes a special federal permit, "because they are protected species, so you just can't go out and randomly catch a bird."

Credit Andrew Robins / WMUK
Rich and Brenda Keith

Once caught, the hummingbirds are measured and weighed (each is a mere three-and-a-half-ounces, or so), then they are banded. Brenda carefully attaches a tiny metal band to each bird's short leg. The band number and the other data go to the national Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland, which keeps track of bird populations around the country. Rich Keith, who's the director of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory, says he’s noticed changes in the migration pattern of hummingbirds here in Michigan.

"We don't have the data to back up that it's due to climate change, but by the first of May there's generally a lot of them here. There's sightings many years in late April all over Michigan. We've even had sightings in the Upper Peninsula in April."

Hummingbirds in southwest Michigan are getting ready for their annual migration to Central America, something that still amazes Brenda Keith.

"Crossing the Gulf in one eight-hour trip without stopping is pretty awesome, I think, for the tiny, little three-and-a-half-gram bird."

The Keiths will talk about hummingbird banding on Tuesday, August 20, at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary near Gull Lake. Their presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. There is an admission fee. They'll also demonstrate the banding process at the Kalamazoo Nature Center from 8 to 10 a.m. on August 30 and the following three Fridays in September. That's part of the Nature Center's ongoing Zugunruhe program celebrating animal migration.

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Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.
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