Hummingbird Banding in Michigan

Research Plan for banding hummingbirds in Michigan

The primary focus is on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Little is known of this species' migration through the interior of North America.  The few published studies center around raptor migration sites, but this is more indicative of the locations of the researchers than the birds themselves.  To date, most Ruby-throated Hummingbird banding has been conducted along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where migrants are tracked through literally hundreds of sites, most of them "back yards" of individual hummingbird enthusiasts. Doubtless, a similar situation occurs in Michigan.  The recent addition of a hummingbird permit (in fall 2000) to the migration monitoring station at Holiday Beach Conservation Area, Ontario, is likely to begin revealing interesting data regarding the phenology of migration, year-to-year variances in populations, details and annual variances of differential migration of the age and sex classes, as well as data on stopover ecology. This (presumed) Ontario population, due to the unique geography of this region of the Great Lakes, migrates west-southwest through Essex County, Ontario, eventually crossing the Detroit River into Michigan. Due to this geography, it is unlikely that any of these fall migrants would be relocated anywhere except Wayne and Monroe counties, in extreme southeastern Michigan. Whether this population migrates south toward the Gulf States, or southwest toward the Texas coast remains to be seen, though we anticipate that the good network of coastal hummingbird banders will be recapturing some of "our" birds soon.

The Michigan "population" of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is essentially unstudied, and this species has gone on and off the National Audubon Society's "blue list" (now called a "Watch List") several times over the past three decades in the state. It is unknown what the population and reproductive success is in Michigan. It is also unknown which routes the Ontario birds we band in the fall take back north in the spring. Other than the Michigan HummerNet project, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in northwestern Ohio provides one of very few opportunities for recapturing northbound Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in this region.

A banding program in Michigan will compliment what is being done in Ontario, as well as all the work being done on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts with this species. Such a banding program can begin to answer some of the important questions noted above regarding the basic biology, migration, and reproductive success of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the Upper Midwest.

This study will be conducted at a variety of locations throughout Michigan as we begin to work out migration concentration points and flight corridors.  I hope to enlist the participation of many of the thousands of people who put out hummingbird feeders throughout Michigan. This program is intended be more extensive than a banding program, and will be modeled after some of Cornell University's very successful "Citizen Science" programs. 

Another benefit to a hummingbird banding program in Michigan will be the opportunity to potentially contribute data to the research being conducted in the southeastern U.S. on the ever-increasing numbers of western hummingbird species wintering there. Over the past several years, reports of Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) have slowly increased in Michigan. In the fall of 1999 there were at least three individuals reported. Also, Michigan has recently added Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus) and two records of Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris) to the state list. There is also a possible (but unaccepted by the Michigan Bird Records Commitee) record of Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) for the state. With increased awareness among the state's thousands of amateur hummingbird watchers, as well as accomplished birders, these numbers are sure to increase. Banding these strays can potentially provide much new information on their migrations, whether they return through the state, and if recaptured somewhere in the southeast, a little more information to contribute to the puzzle that is being worked on there.