Hummingbird Banding in Estes Park, Colorado

Hummingbird Banding in Estes Park, Colorado

Near Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, Scott Rashid sets up his hummingbird banding station. Underneath tree canopy shadows, a feeder is hung and surrounded with nylon netting. For the visitors, there are a few rows of benches faced towards the feeder. Scott sits on one of the benches and waits for a hummingbird to fly into the net.

Scott Rashid, bird researcher and rehabilitator, is one of three certified hummingbird banders in Colorado. He has been banding birds for 34 years, and his knowledge of varying bird species is astounding. Scott bands all types of birds in the area year-round and conducts educational programs for anyone willing to listen to why bird banding is beneficial (both for us and the birds).

On the particular afternoon I visited the site, three hummingbirds were captured – all Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. According to Scott, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are identified twice as often as any other species at this location, most likely due to their migration route. Once each hummingbird is caught, Scott untangles it from the net and puts its tiny body in an owl band. He says other hummingbird banders may put the hummingbird in a small cloth bag, but using an owl band has proven more effective for him. The owl band allows the hummingbird to stay still without causing any damage to its wings. Scott then uses his own hand-made or altered tools to efficiently wrap a tiny aluminum band around its leg. Each band has a letter and five numbers on it, so that if the bird is recaptured the location and condition of that individual can be recorded.

One participant this afternoon is especially concerned about banding. She’s wondering why it’s necessary and if the birds are physically hurt or psychologically traumatized from the experience. But Scott has heard this concern many times before, and passionately explains how the banding practices performed are quick and harmless, leaving the birds with a light and barely-noticeable anklet. He describes the experience as “getting stopped by the police.” The hummingbirds are quickly returned to normal life and, in the end, the experience doesn’t inhibit them from returning to the same location.

When Scott finishes banding each of the hummingbirds, he asks for a volunteer from the eager audience to help send the hummingbirds on their way. Each time Scott gently places the hummingbird in the palm of a person’s hand and the hummingbird is still, not accustomed to being placed in this position. But with a bump of the volunteer’s hand from Scott, the hummingbird swiftly buzzes out of sight.

It is clear from this single afternoon that Scott is passionate and fully engulfed in his work. During our talk, he enthusiastically describes his most incredible find the day he recaptured a hummingbird that he had first captured himself nine years earlier. This is his favorite part about his work, “being able to do the work safely and getting the information without hurting the hummingbirds.” This year alone he has banded 448 hummingbirds. He has never caught the same Rufous Hummingbird twice and has yet to catch a Calliope Hummingbird.

By banding birds, we are able to provide researchers and future conservationists with information on their migration routes, survival, behavior and threats. Once more knowledge is gained from hummingbird banding, the information can be shared and further precautions can be taken. Hummingbird banding and educational programs such as Scott’s are the starting points for learning more about these beautiful and amazing species. But they are the necessary and foundational steps in building towards the greater goal of hummingbird conservation.

Ways You Can Help

  • Clean your feeders! Without changing the nectar and cleaning feeders often, the stale nectar can give hummingbirds serious bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Build your own hummingbird-friendly garden at home. Be careful not to use pesticides. Click here and follow the steps in order to properly welcome hummingbirds into your garden.
  • Visit Scott at his banding session. From 4-5 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Scott sets up his station at the YMCA of the Rockies and welcomes visitors to learn general information on birds and hummingbird banding. When you enter the YMCA grounds, drive past the mini golf and tennis courts and turn right onto Mineral Road. Make the first right onto a dirt road that says “Private,” and then turn left into a small, gravel parking lot. Follow a little trail down from the parking lot and you can’t miss it!  View on Google Maps
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