|Spring arrived early
in Vancouver this year with beautiful weather in the early part of
March which coincided with the early arrival of the first migrant
hummingbirds. After a long, dark and wet Pacific Northwest winter
where there are virtually no birds left in the park, the hummers
were an early reminder that spring banding was just around the
corner as we waited patiently to start our banding and monitoring
Our migrant hummers on the coast
are mainly Rufous (RUHU) and our resident hummers Anna's (ANHU).
Speaking of Anna's Hummingbirds Mike Yip sent these amazing photos
of a white Anna's he was able to capture on Qualicum Beach,
Vancouver Island in July.
Most white birds are "leucistic" a
condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting
in white, light, or patchy coloration of feathers, caused by a
reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin. A
leucistic individual usually has white or patchy white
plumage, but its eyes, feet, and bill show normal black pigment as
was the case with this bird.
There are very few true albino
birds that have no melanin at all where the feathers are pure white
and where the eyes, feet, and bill appear pinkish because the
absence of black pigment allows red hemoglobin to show through.
|Whether leucistic or
albinistic, there are very few white hummingbirds in the world with
reports of less than a hundred or so white hummers among all
hummingbirds that have ever been seen so Mike's bird really was
quite amazing and to get such fabulous shots more amazing still!
(Thanks for sharing Mike!)
(Photos by Mike Yip - Please note that all images are copyrighted
and are not to be used without permission)
|Well, if a white
Anna's isn't exciting enough this after hatch year (AHY) male
Calliope Hummingbird (Stellula calliope) was an exciting and
surprising capture as it was the first ever Calliope to be banded at
Colony Farm, bringing the total of species banded for the station up
Similar to the commonly captured
Rufous Hummingbird, the Calliope Hummingbird can be distinguished by
its short thin bill and short tail. Rufous Hummingbirds have a
longer bill and tail and a richer rufous wash to the underparts and
tail feathers, while Calliope Hummingbirds have cinnamon edging on
tail feathers and a cinnamon wash to the undertail coverts.
|These hummingbirds are
the smallest species of bird that breed in North America, this bird
weighing in at just 2.7 grams! Since they breed in montaine conifer
forests generally ranging from 4000-1000 feet in elevation, and
prefer the drier, chaparral habitat of the BC interior, it is rare
to spot these birds in coastal British Columbia. As few as two
sightings in the Lower Mainland have been reported this year, with
only three sightings reported in all of 2015.
(Photos by Debbie Wheeler - Please
note that all images are copyrighted and are not to be used without
|Although by no means
as rare as the birds above the after hatch year (AHY) male Anna's
Hummingbird below makes the blog just because it is such a striking
Anna's Hummingbirds are now common
birds along the Pacific coast and throughout the Vancouver area,
their range having increased dramatically since the 1930s, when they
were found only in California and Baja California. The combination
of the planting of exotic flowering trees in parks and gardens
and the widespread use of backyard nectar feeders have resulted in
its breeding range expanding as far north as the Comox Valley on the
east coast of Vancouver Island.
Adult males like this one really are
like flying jewelry with their iridescent magenta-rose crown and
throat feathers. The gorgets of
hummingbirds contain highly iridescent feathers which are among the
most specialized feathers in all bird species. It’s not pigments
that give the feathers colour but the refracted light falling at
certain angles on the gorget.
Only a portion of each feather is modified for iridescence but the
overlapping of adjacent feathers creates the unbroken colour effect
of a single block of feathers as can be seen in the photo below.
|The technique we use
for banding hummingbirds is quite different from songbirds and
involves placing them in soft 'strait-jackets' which allows the safe
handling, banding and measuring of these tiny birds. Hummingbirds
are always firm favourites with visitors to the station who, like
us, can't fail to marvel at these tiny dynamos with wings beating up
to 80 times a second and hearts beating up to 1,200 a minute in
|We make the bands for
Hummingbirds ourselves from thin sheets of aluminum stamped with 100
band numbers provided by the federal Bird Banding Laboratory, each
strip of bands is carefully and precisely sliced to 1.4mm width and
each band then cut to 5.6 or 6.0 mm lengths before being filed and
sanded with fine glass paper and formed and placed on to safety
The finished band is
not much larger than the tip of a retractable pencil (photo below
left) and doesn't even register on a digital scale weighing to a
hundredth of a gram (photo below right).
Apodiformes which comes from the Greek word meaning 'no feet' and
although they do of course have feet to perch they are too far back
on their bodies to walk. This means that a Hummingbird placed on a
hand will normally stay there for a few moments allowing for
fabulous photo opportunities for visitors who never fail to be
totally captivated by them like the after hatch year (AHY) female
|Once banded, a number
of biometric measurements are carefully taken including wing chord,
tail length and exposed culmen (the length of the upper edge of the
bill from the base of the feathers to the tip - photo below) and
each bird assessed for fat deposits.
|A final measurement
prior to release is body mass - our after hatch year (AHY) female
below weighing in at a mighty 3.57 grams, slightly less than a
|A full photo essay on
ageing and sexing Rufous Hummingbirds can be found in our
June 2012 blog
With the change of weather the first
wave of migrants arrived including a number of Yellow-rumped
Warblers, this dazzling male Myrtle Warbler in full alternate
(breeding) plumage. The early returning migrants are such a welcome
splash of colour after months of drab resident birds in basic,
winter (non-breeding) plumages and we all get excited wondering what
each net round will produce!
Ageing and sexing
wood warblers in the spring requires a complete understanding of the
molt cycle of the individual species being studied. Adult birds like
this one will have undertaken a prebasic molt following the breeding
season last year when all body and flight feathers are replaced.
In species where
the prebasic molt is the only molt occurring annually breeding
occurs in basic plumage and the result (when looking at an adult
bird, which has undertaken this complete definitive prebasic molt)
in the spring is that there are no discernible molt limits on the
wing between replaced and retained feathers.
However, in many
species there is a SECOND molt that occurs in the late winter /
early spring prior to the next prebasic molt. This molt called the
prealternate molt occurs in both adults and first year birds so that
in the spring first year birds will show three generations of
feathers but adults will also show molt limits. In adults however
there are only two generations of feathers, definitive basic and
definitive alternate feathers.
The after second
year (ASY) male Myrtle Warbler wing below is showing such a molt
limit (shown with red arrow) between the outer four greater coverts
replaced as part of the birds definitive adult prebasic molt last
year and the six inner greater coverts replaced as part of its
definitive (adult) prealternate molt this spring.
|We've spoken before
about overlap in tail shape among the age groups in
Setophaga warblers and how tail shape alone is not therefore
reliable for ageing as all age classes can show rounded rectrices.
But the outer rectrices of the adult (ASY) male Myrtle Warbler below
is not only showing very truncate outer rects but also extensive
white on rectrices r2 to r6 and extensive black centers to the
uppertail coverts (red arrow) both of which which are diagnostic of
Adult male wood warblers are normally
the first to return like these three after second year (ASY) males -
Townsend's Warbler (left), Orange-crowned Warbler (below right) and
Wilson's Warbler (below left).
This spring marked the second year of
our special species study on Tree Swallow nesting behaviour using
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology. We are continuing
to use the technology to monitor parental activity during nesting.
Volunteer Kyle Norris built us a new “Super Coil” to test out in one
of our nest boxes. The Super Coil has a larger gauge wire than the
previous coils, which decreases the overall DC resistance of the
wire. This allows for a stronger magnetic field and greater
sensitivity. By comparing logged data to video of the nest box, we
have determined that the Super Coil is more effective at picking up
|Tag readings tell us
the time at which the female leaves the nest box to begin daily
activity and the time that she returns to the box for the night, as
well as each entry throughout the day. Our swallows tend to leave
that box between 7:00 and 8:00 AM and return for the night between
7:00 and 8:00 PM. The volunteers at VARC can only dream of getting a
12-hour sleep—most of us wake up at 4:00 AM for spring and summer
||Nest building began at the start
of May with egg laying in mid-May, a female laying one egg per day
at dawn. A typical Tree swallow nest has three to six eggs. At the
beginning of this season, 7 out of 10 nest boxes had active nests.
Eggs were laid in 6 of the 7 completed nests. After eggs were laid,
we began catching female swallows to apply Passive Integrated
Transponder tags (PIT tags) and bands. While most of the nesting
females were unbanded second year (SY) birds, one was a returning
after hatch year (AHY) female. She had nested in Box 10 last year
with a successful brood and returned to the very same box this year.
We will continue to monitor nesting
behaviour and fledgling success throughout the season.
|House Wrens have an
enormous geographic range in the Americas but are uncommon birds for
us on the coast - this hatch year bird was however the second for
the season and it is a species becoming increasingly common. Despite
their small size, they can be fierce competitors for nest site
cavities, sometimes evicting larger species such as Bewick's Wrens
and removing eggs from nests.
House Wrens are larger than the
more common Pacific Wren, lack the short, buffy supercilium, have
longer bills and tails and barred undertail coverts.
We also banded both Bewick's and
Marsh Wrens during this period. Bewick's Wrens are larger than House
Wrens with longer, barred tails and prominent, white superciliums.
Marsh Wrens are also small, dark wrens with a whitish supercilium
but have bold black and white streaking on the back.
|Other notable captures included a
Chipping Sparrow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, 3 Bullock's Orioles
(all 3 of these species uncommon for us in the old field habitat
where we band at Colony Farm) and 5 Lazuli Buntings including this
stunning after second year (ASY) male.
also came through in good numbers with 46 Traill's (Willow)
Flycatchers caught for banding and 3 Western Wood-pewees which can
look quite similar in the hand but have longer wings extending to
the tips of the undertail coverts (photo left).
|Another nice tyrant
flycatcher was this gorgeous after hatch year (AHY) Western
Kingbird. Although not as common for us on the coast as they are in
the interior of BC, the open habitat at Colony Farm provides
suitable foraging habitat for these acrobatic flycathers.
|What would have been a
new species banded (and species #99!) for the station was an elusive
Yellow-breasted Chat which infuriatingly spent an entire morning
vocalizing and flying backwards and forwards above one of our
|And no VARC banding
season would be complete without the plethora of visitors which
included a Bird Monitoring and Banding workshop which included our
friends from WRA (Wildlife Rescue Association), monthly VARC Family
Days, visits from Nature Kids, Brownies and Boys Adventure groups.
|And proving that you can mix
business with pleasure we also hosted an entire Prospera Credit
Union branch managers developmental day at the station which was a
huge success with the managers saying it was the best developmental
day they'd ever had - even finance people can be persuaded that
birds are brilliant!
|And look at these
little girl's faces - who says public outreach programs like these
don't impact kids to consider birds and the environment?!!
||A total of 7,099.5 net hours were
completed during the spring/summer season thanks as always to all
the amazing VARC volunteers who set alarm clocks for ridiculously
early hours during the summer months to get to the banding station
for dawn at 4.45am!
1,621 new birds of 48 species were
banded and 432 significant retrap were processed. The most commonly
banded species were Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat and
Orange-crowned Warbler. The table left shows a complete list of new
captures and the table below a complete list of retraps.
A particularly interesting retrap
was a stunning 6 year-old male Black-headed grosbeak with breeding
characteristics (cloacal protuberance) first banded at Colony Farm
in 2010 and amazing to think this bird has survived 6 fall
migrations to Mexico and has likely returned to the park each spring
|And finally, a VIP
visit from Bob Elner who is the Convener of the 27th
International Ornithological Congress 2018
which will be held in Vancouver (19-26 August, 2018) and which VARC
will be involved with supporting the conference and hosting one of
the field trips.
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