Socializing on my porch are three people watching hummingbirds at the feeders. Two of us discover that one is married to a hummingbird expert, now retired, who volunteers to band hummingbirds for the Department of Natural Resources, and does it at state parks where the public is invited to watch.
"People can band hummingbirds?"
"Trained and licensed people with very steady hands."
"Why are they banded?"
"To track survival and how the same ones come back to the same spot year to year."
"Do the bands have radios in them?"
"No, they are just very small pieces of metal. They can't be more than 4 percent of the bird's body weight."
"How do you catch hummingbirds to band them or check them?"
"With a feeder that has a trapdoor you pull."
"That must [annoy them a lot]."
"You have to know how not to stress the birds."
"I fill the feeders with one part sugar to four parts water, boiled together, then cooled."
"You don't have to boil. Just dissolve the sugar in warm tap water."
"I thought boiling was doing the hummingbirds a favor."
"It's not necessary."
"I thought it helped control that black guck that grows in the feeders during warm weather."
"That guck comes from bacteria on the end of the birds' beaks."
"Isn't it like they're sipping through a straw?"
"No. They have an upper and lower beak. The beak is long because it holds a long tongue. It's their tongue that goes into feeders and flowers."
"How come I never see their mouths open?"
"Because having feeders you see them only when they're feeding."