A special guest darted into the Forest Preserve District’s recent "Hummingbird Fest & Nature Celebration," much to the delight of staff and volunteers.
A hummingbird that was captured and banded four years ago made a return visit to Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve and was recaptured during the banding portion of this year's fest. Seeing the tiny bird again was quite a treat, said Bob Bryerton, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve District.
“When the birds are captured, each one is weighed and measured, given a band and then released,” he said. “If a banded bird is recaptured, it gives us some information on where it was banded and about how old it might be. Most often, hummingbirds return to the same location, so it is likely that birds that are recaptured are from the same spot.”
Hummingbirds have only been recaptured two or three times during past Forest Preserve banding events.
“Recaptures are special and something we hope for each year, but we cannot count on it happening,” Bryerton said. “These birds have such a long distance to travel that many don’t make it the first year. If they manage to get through the first year, then they usually have a lifespan of 3-5 years.”
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, allaboutbirds.org, the oldest known hummingbird was banded and recaptured in West Virginia at the age of 9 years, 1 month old.
“So there are some that can live longer,” Bryerton said.
The bird recaptured at this year’s hummingbird fest was one that had been banded at Plum Creek Nature Center in 2015.
“We know the bird is at least 4 years old, and it would seem to be a relatively hardy bird,” Bryerton said. “This bird had likely been across the Gulf of Mexico four times in order to come back to our area. It was a female bird and had a brood patch on it, which indicated that it likely nested at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve.”
The hummingbird’s band number, K25835, showed it had been adopted by Forest Preserve volunteer and Thorn Creek Audubon Board member Greg Hejnar.
"The big thrill of our hummingbird fest is the chance to adopt a hummingbird so you can hold it in your hands to release it," said Forest Preserve interpretive naturalist Suzy Lyttle. "It is a first-come, first-served situation, so people line up early for the special opportunity."
Once the returning hummingbird's band was researched and identified after the fest, Hejnar received a letter informing him that his bird had made it back home to Will County. Hejnar said in an email that it was wonderful to receive the letter.
"In fact, it somehow brightened my day, maybe my week," he said. " ... It was nice to hear that a bird that was banded four years ago was recaptured and helps in the overall understanding of the health of the hummingbird population. I guess the reason it made me feel so good was that my contribution to the banding of hummingbirds helps in the understanding of bird behavior."
The adoption and banding programs help educate the public about hummingbirds beyond seeing them at backyard feeders, Bryerton said.
“This is one of the reasons we do the bandings,” he said. “It really helps people connect with these tiny active birds. It is very special to know that this little bird has been able to make the trip back for so many years, and it calls Goodenow Grove home during the nesting season. And it confirms that these birds come back to the same areas each year. Places like Goodenow Grove provide habitat that supports nesting for these birds and is important for their survival.”
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