Claire Delaune and Pam Sepeda love watching the hummingbirds that gather on the feeders outside their Baton Rouge homes — so much so that the neighbors often find their conversations revolving around how many and which kinds of hummingbirds they’ve spotted that day.
So when Delaune and Sepeda found out about the Feliciana Hummingbird Festival — an annual event where biologists capture and release the birds to collect data — they knew they had to go. They bought matching blue T-shirts emblazoned with the image of a hummingbird and made the trek to the rural Tunica area of West Feliciana Parish, where the festival was held Saturday on the wooded property surrounding Carlyle Rogillio’s home.
“We’re totally nerding out,” Delaune said with a laugh.
She and other attendees watched in awe as hummingbirds zoomed out of the woods, chirping while they swarmed the many flowers and nectar-filled feeders around Rogillio’s home. Experts working at the event placed wire cages over a few of the feeders to catch some of the birds, which were then placed in small cloth bags.
People crowded around the table where Erik Johnson, director of bird conservation with Audubon Louisiana, removed one bird at a time from the bags and jotted down notes about things like gender, species and color. He carefully blew onto the birds’ feathers to check how much fat was on their bodies — important because they need to accumulate fat to survive long migratory flights — and weighed them on a scale.
A hummingbird weighs just a few grams.
“It would take about 120 of these to make a pound,” Johnson said.
He attached a metal band imprinted with a number to each bird’s leg so it can be identified if captured later by someone else.
The data collected Saturday helps scientists learn more about hummingbirds and track them as they migrate. They’re on their way south for the winter now.
West Feliciana Parish is a sort of “superhighway” for hummingbirds, Johnson said. Many people at the event were amazed by the sheer number of hummingbirds buzzing around the feeders Saturday.
After completing his work, Johnson enlisted volunteers to help him release the tiny creatures. Children and adults alike leapt at the opportunity to admire — if only briefly — the colorful avians up close.
Sisters Samantha and Anna McNair, of Pride, were among the first to hold and release a hummingbird.
“He was really soft,” Samantha, 8, said.
“Whenever they take off, their wings hit your hand” with a surprising amount of force, 9-year-old Anna said. An information sheet passed out at the event notes that hummingbirds can flap their wings up to 50 times per second.
Rogillio was delighted to see youngsters like Samantha and Anna enjoying the festival, now in its 19th year. Attendance has grown over the years, and visitors have come from every continent except Africa so far, he said.
“We need to get more people interested in the birds,” Rogillio said, adding that increased awareness will help protect bird habitats and populations.
That sentiment was shared by Sandra Wicker, Samantha and Anna’s grandmother.
“If you don’t teach the young ones to take care of the wildlife,” Wicker said, “it’s going to disappear.”