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LSU College of Agriculture students capture, band migrating hummingbirds

News Release Distributed 09/15/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – Cheers erupted as a remote-controlled door on a cage closed. A small ruby-throated hummingbird was inside at a feeder.

Students in the LSU College of Agriculture’s School of Renewable Natural Resources were trapping hummingbirds at a residence in Baton Rouge on Sept. 12 to help with banding them and to gather information about each bird.

Bret Collier teaches this wildlife management techniques class, which he calls a “catch ‘em” course. This is the first outing the class has taken, but during the semester they will learn to capture and handle other animals, such as ducks, doves, gopher tortoises, turkeys and deer, he said.

The hummingbird lesson “is a low-impact, fun way for students to learn techniques to trap and handle birds,” Collier said.

After the birds were trapped, students put individual hummingbirds in small cloth bags to settle them down and then brought the bags to Dave Patton. A volunteer bird bander, Patton has a federal banding permit and has been banding birds for 20 years.

He showed the students how to put the small metal band on the bird’s leg and how to tell its age and whether it was a male or female. He also measured the bird’s tail, wings and bill and checked the bird’s fat content. A student volunteer recorded the measurements.

“I’m required to submit this data to the bird banding laboratory,” Patton said.

Patton also put a mark on the birds’ heads so later that evening he could see if the banded birds were returning to the feeders.

After he was done with each hummingbird, Patton put it in a student’s hand to be released. In most instances, the birds immediately flew away. But some birds lingered, like the one Jenna Collins held.

“I never had a bird that tiny in my hand before,” Collins said “I’ve always been fascinated by them, so to actually get to hold one was pretty awesome.”

September is a peak season for ruby-throated hummingbirds in Louisiana.

“Louisiana is a major migratory path for hummingbirds moving into Central and South America for the winter,” Collier said.

Luke LaBorde’s home in south Baton Rouge was a perfect spot for the class to work with hummingbirds.

“I put up six dozen feeders,” said LaBorde, who assists Collier with teaching the course. “The idea is to place enough feeders in a small location to break down their territoriality and stop male domination of feeders.”

It worked. Dozens of hummingbirds flitted around LaBorde’s backyard.

“It is important to teach proper capture and handling techniques so they are not overly stressed,” LaBorde said.

With that knowledge, students can learn to manage different wildlife populations.

Collins is applying to vet school and wants to work with wildlife, so this class is exciting for her.

“I just want a greater knowledge of different species out there and ways to manage them so our children and grandchildren will be able to appreciate them,” Collins said.

Liz Gillen was one of 40 other students. She was able to pull a hummingbird out one of the traps.

“This class is very hands-on, and that is the best way to learn,” she said.

Another student, Steve Madere, works with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He has experience banding ducks and doves.

“This is definitely new – banding hummingbirds,” he said.

The group trapped and banded 31 birds that day.

Tobie Blanchard
Last Updated: 10/1/2014 6:58:26 AM

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