The tiny captive is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, held firmly in fingers that are far bigger than he is. What happens next will help solve an intriguing migration mystery affecting one of the world’s most intriguing birds.
Along the North Carolina coast, hummingbirds are creating a birders’ kerfuffle by staying into the winter when they’re expected to be headed to South American with millions of their fellow migrants. Susan Campbell, an ornithologist from Southern Pines, and the state’s leading expert on hummingbirds, is trying to figure out why.
First, Campbell tags the hummingbird with a small aluminum band on his leg, then weighs and measures him and puts a dollop of white paint on his forehead. After a sip of nectar, this young male is ready to be set free in the woods near North Carolina’s Hatteras Island to join the research project.
“This is one of the last frontiers in bird research right now,’’ Campbell said. Over the past 20 years, she has banded some 4,000 hummingbirds in North Carolina in hopes of tracking their travels to try to make sense of these migratory patterns.
The banding last month was part of a demonstration to raise visibility of the volunteer campaign to study the 15 species of hummingbirds that migrate through North Carolina. This is one of the best places there is to do it: More hummingbirds have been spotted in North Carolina than anywhere in the U.S. but Arizona.
Here’s a video of the banding process: