A ruby-throated hummingbird sat perfectly still in Joan Weber’s hand, that is until she gave it a nudge and the tiny bird shot off like a rocket into the trees above.
The ritual was repeated with slight variations dozens of times at the West Feliciana Parish home of Murrell Butler Saturday morning as birds buzzing around feeders were caught, banded and released. Some took off immediately, while others almost seemed to like resting in human hands for a spell.
The occasion was the annual Hummingbird Celebration hosted by the Feliciana Nature Society and the National Wildbird Refuge, an event that gave enthusiasts a close-up look at the birds and a chance to briefly hold them
“You could barely feel anything in your hand,” said Weber, of Gramercy, who was visiting with her husband, Michael. “All I could feel was almost a little tickle.”
Hannah McCarty, 5, of Geismar, had a similar experience when her hummingbird jetted out of her small hands.
“My favorite part was getting to hold the bird,” Hannah said.
Hannah’s parents, Julie and Justin, drove the long distance to get an up-close view of hummingbirds. The trio has hummingbirds that frequent feeders at their home farther south but nothing like what was present Saturday.
Hummingbirds, all of the ruby-throated variety, hummed and buzzed past heads and through tree branches as they fed frantically around Butler’s home, which serves as a sanctuary for the birds as they migrate from the northern and eastern United States on their way to Central and South America.
And Saturday turned out exactly how the bird banders had hoped it would be — full of hummingbirds.
Bird banders Nancy Newfield and Steve Locke, along with banding assistant Kevin Morgan, were the reason why visitors to the event were able to get such a close view of the birds.
Newfield and Locke used electronic cages to harmlessly trap the birds, which are moved by hand into holding bags. From there, the two experts determine the physical attributes of the delicate creatures, which are recorded by Morgan.
“This shows us how fit they are before continuing on,” Morgan said of the examinations.
The first step in the examination process is the most important: applying the band.
Newfield carefully applied a band to the birds’ legs that has information to tell others who might capture it in the future where it came from and when it was banded. Then Newfield gently holds the birds to determine characteristics such as fat percentage, age and sex, among others.
All of the information is recorded and entered into a database collected by the Federal Bird Banding Lab, Morgan said.
Such banding exercises take place throughout the year, but Saturday’s event is designed to show the public how it’s done and, of course, give them the thrill of holding hummingbirds.
After the banders are done recording information, the hummingbirds are given a colorful paint coating on their heads, which serves as a marker to other banders not to catch that particular bird again. When the birds’ feathers molt, the paint marking goes with them.
Then, all that is left is for the birds to be released: the fun part.
Jonathan Robinson, 4, of Prairieville, knows all about the fun part. He traveled to St. Francisville for the festival with his brother Conner, 9, and grandmother, Donna.
Like other participants who gathered around the banding table, Jonathan watched with anticipation as Newfield carefully placed the bird into his hand. When the ruby-throated hummingbird decided to jet off into the sky, Jonathan’s laughs and surprise were matched by those standing near him.
“It was so cool,” Jonathan said about his experience. “And it felt good to hold it in my hand!”