BY mark h. hunter
Special to The Advocate
July 31, 2012
ST. FRANCISVILLE — Master hummingbird bander Nancy L. Newfield told the crowd Saturday that one myth about hummingbirds is that they travel on the backs of geese; another is that they must they eat every 15 minutes or they’ll die. Actually, she said, hummingbirds sleep through the night.
“Leaving your feeder out all winter will not prevent hummingbirds from migrating,” Newfield added, dispelling a third myth in remarks to a group of bird lovers gathered at Murrell Butler’s rural home near St. Francisville.
“The birds we have here in the winter are a completely different population than the ones here now that will soon be migrating to Mexico and Central America.”
Newfield’s hummingbird-banding activity at Butler’s home, attended by about 200 people, made up half of the 11th annual Feliciana Nature Society’s Hummingbird Celebration.
The other half was under way simultaneously several miles farther up the Tunica Trace at the family homestead of Carlyle Rogillio, where Linda Beall, a biologist and master bander, also was banding dozens of “hummers.”
Rogillio’s homestead, carved out of the forested Tunica Hills by his ancestors in the 19th century, is prime hummingbird — and other bird — habitat. Rogillio estimated more than 1,100 breeding hummingbirds live around his place during summertime. At any one time Saturday, there were several dozen darting around the house, buzzing the dozens of visitors and visiting his several colorful flowerbeds.
“I have 12 feeders up right now, but later on we’ll put up 40, and even that won’t be enough,” Rogillio said with a laugh. When the migration gets into full swing later this fall, he’ll hang a half-dozen gallon-sized feeders that, he says, would be always crowded with hovering birds.
“We probably use at least 30, 25-pound bags of sugar a year,” Rogillio said. “It doesn’t end. When these birds leave, others come in for the winter.
“The Indians have a saying, ‘If the birds were to stop singing, man’s spirit would die,’ ” Rogillio said. “Birds are a barometer of our environment, so when the environment gets bad, birds are the first to go. When you see lots of birds, you have a good environment.”
Hanging in the breezeway between Rogillio’s house and garage were three traps that Linda Keefer was using to catch the birds for Beall to band. Two traps consisted of wire boxes with feeders inside and the third was made of fine mesh net draped over a feeder.
When a bird flew to a feeder, Keefer squeezed the button on her remote control unit. Then, the doors — or the net — dropped, allowing her to gently place the captured bird in a mesh net until Beall could examine it.
Keefer, a physician specializing in internal medicine, said she likes hummingbirds because, “They’re fascinating. They’re feisty, but they don’t bear grudges. They live in the moment a lot more than people do.”
Using needle-nose pliers, Beall gently put a tiny band on a captured bird’s leg, then measured the beak and body length, weighed it, determined its sex, the “wear” of its feathers, and a half-dozen other indicators while her helper, Tracey Banowetz, wrote it all down.
“Usually, we get a few recaptures from previous years,” Beall said while answering the many questions from onlookers. “Banding studies have shown they are loyal to both their breeding areas and their wintering areas.”
At the end of each captured hummer’s examination, Beall would daub a dot of temporary, water-based white paint on its head, so if they netted it again, they’d release it.
Next, each hummer was given a drink and handed to a visitor to gently hold it until the bird decided to fly away.
Kathy Rauch, of Prairieville, said she visited Rogillio’s place just so she could hold a hummingbird.
When she was given one to hold, it flew away after a few seconds, leaving her trembling and with her cheeks flushed.
“It was wonderful. It was so fun,” Rauch said. “I’m going to cry. It was so exciting. It was amazing.”
“We came last year, but she didn’t get a chance to handle one,” said her husband, Tom Rauch.
“We have four feeders going and we keep the Audubon book and binoculars handy.”
Vincent Vorndran and Nancy Giles, Audubon Society members and bird lovers from Charles Town, W.Va., were visiting her family in Baton Rouge.
“It’s just amazing to see how nature works,” Giles said after releasing a banded bird.
“We’ve been watching birds for about 20 years now, and we learn new things all the time,” Vorndran said. “This is something young people need to get involved in.”
Bo and Tracy McCartney, from Jena, are serious birders but are also serious gardeners, she said.
“I plant a lot of red plants they like, like cypress vine,” she said. “I design my gardens so I can see the hummingbirds from my windows.
“They just enhance the quality of our life.”
The event began Friday evening with a reception at Rosedown Plantation Historic Site.
“I don’t know how many were there, but the room was packed,” Rogillio said.
“There were people there from Fayetteville, Ark., and Nashville, Tenn. It just goes to show you people will come from all over just to see these little birds. I can’t believe it!”
ä ON THE INTERNET:
Feliciana Nature Society: http://www.audubonbirdfest.com
Nancy Newfield’s site: http://www.casacolibri.net