You can lead a hummingbird to (sugar) water but you can’t make him drink.

Shortly after we arrived at Bryce Canyon NP, we learned that there might be the opportunity to help with the banding of hummingbirds. You have to get up before sunrise but we figured it would still be worth it for an up close view of the little birds. Bryce is part of a regional banding program started about 5 years ago.

When we showed at 5:45 AM, this is what we saw:


Normally, there are five hummingbird feeders stationed in this clearing. All but two of the feeders are taken down (along with any feeders that the nearby park employees have outside their residences.) This is how you catch a hummingbird:

First, the obvious step – wait for the bird to get inside the trap circle. Once the bird puts its’ head down to drink, you release the fishing line that is holding the net up. You now (usually, but not always) have a hummingbird trapped but you still have to catch it!

You take a little net bag, leave it on the floor of the trap and then stick your hand inside and gently grab the bird. Once you manage to catch the bird in your hand, you put him in the bag. Sounds easy doesn’t it? I let at least two of them get away before I got the hang of it!

Here is what a hummingbird in a bag looks like when he is waiting his turn for banding:


The Park Biologist, Sarah, is the only one qualified to band the hummingbirds at Bryce. You have to go through quite a bit of training. She does a few of the initial steps (measuring and banding) with the bird still in his little bag.



Next there is some data collection and more measuring, which Sarah does while actually hanging on to the little guy in her hand!



She determines the sex and species, measures the beak and wing length, checks under the feathers for fat, looks for signs of pollen, and does an overall evaluation.


After all that is finished, she wraps the little guy (or gal) up in a net, kind of like a burrito with a clip, for weighing. Alan’s job was to report the weight and then take the bird out of his wrapping.



He would then offer the hummingbird a drink from the feeder. Sometimes they would drink, sometimes they wouldn’t.



When they had their fill, he would put the bird on the palm of his hand. Some birds would just hang around and sit for a while, others would zoom right off!


We caught 30-some birds over the day. There were black-throated and broad-tailed hummingbirds. Even after seeing the different species up close, I’m still having problems distinguishing them at our feeder. We might actually be turning into birders after this day!

5 thoughts on “You can lead a hummingbird to (sugar) water but you can’t make him drink.

    1. Yes, a few already had bands. Most were probably from previous bandings at Bryce but one was from another location.

      We also caught the same birds more than once during the day. Apparently, the catching wasn’t so traumatic that they wouldn’t come back to the feeders!

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