Wednesday, May 24, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Returning hummingbirds inspire study of migration

Saturday, April 22, 2006
Times Staff Writer,
Bob and Martha Sargent hung a hummingbird feeder in their backyard in Clay and began to notice some unusual things.

They realized the same birds would come back to their yard, buzzing around the wire they hung the feeder on even if it wasn't up yet.

How, they wondered, did the tiny birds with their BB-sized brains, find their way back to the same yard and same feeder each year?

Finding the answer to that question began what has become a two-decade-long study of hummingbirds and other birds that migrate through and live in Alabama.

In 1994, the Sargents founded the Hummer/Bird Study group, a nonprofit, volunteer organization with more than 2,000 members in 43 states and five countries. The Sargents are licensed by the Bird Banding Laboratory, the government organization that allows the legal banding and tracking of birds.

Each year, the Sargents spend the first two weeks of April at their field station on Fort Morgan, banding hundreds of birds each year on their migratory path north. The project was featured in this month's Alabama edition of Southern Living magazine.

The couple also study hummingbirds in their own backyard. They have 12 feeders up now and will add more, with a total of 60 feeders up by July 4. That's an arbitrary date but one that's in the middle of hummingbird season and easy to remember, Sargent said earlier this week from his home in Clay.

Those feeders bring around 1,000 hummingbirds to the Sargents' yard each year. Of those, about 175 are birds they've banded before and another 800 or so are birds new to the yard - or ones they haven't caught before.

The Sargents put out 155 gallons of sugar water every year to attract the birds, with the biggest number of both fledgling hummers and adult birds coming in July through the middle of August.

From August to mid-September, the birds will begin migrating south for the winter.

© 2006 The Huntsville Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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