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Hummingbird banding to be demonstrated in Buford

LAWRENCEVILLE - Imagine holding in your hands a tiny creature that can flap its wings up to 80 times per second, depending on the species.

Karen Theodorou said it's amazing.

"It takes a very gentle touch (to hold a hummingbird)," she said. "Most ruby-throats only weigh about 2.75 to 4 grams. Some weigh up to 5 to 6 grams when they are putting on weight for migration."

A Lawrenceville resident, Theodorou is part of a two-person team, along with Julia Elliott of Marietta, that captures and attaches a tiny identification band to hummingbirds for research purposes and species management. Both women work for Bird Watcher Supply Co. - Elliott is the company's retail operations manager and Theodorou manages the Buford Bird Watcher Supply store - and they'll be demonstrating the banding process for the public Saturday at Theodorou's store.

"By marking individual birds, we can better monitor and study migration, behavior, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population," Elliott said.

"We learn important data such as how long hummingbirds live, how they use different habitats during breeding, migration and wintering, which migration routes they take during spring and fall, which species occur in Georgia," Theodorou added.

Hummingbirds, which are traveling through this area on their migration to Central America, will be captured in a special cage behind the store. The birds will then be carried in a mesh bag to the banding table set up in front of Bird Watcher Supply so those who attend can watch the banding process. The hummingbirds will be transferred into a little piece of pantyhose, the toe part, Theodorou said, so she and Elliott can handle them more carefully. A numbered band will then be placed on each bird's right leg with a set of pliers. Elliott and Theodorou will measure each bird's wing, tail and bill, and then blow on the feathers with a straw to check for molt - the process of replacing older feathers with newer ones - fat, breeding status and general health before release. The data recorded will be sent to the Bird Banding Lab in Patuxent, Md.

"If the bird has a low weight, we will feed it a little nectar before it's released," Theodorou said. "The whole process usually takes about three minutes."

After the banding process has been completed, a lucky person will be selected to release the hummingbird to continue its journey south.

"The hummingbird will fly away when it realizes it's free - sometimes immediately and sometimes they sit for a few seconds," Theodorou said.

The demonstration will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

"By studying birds in this way, we can make sure future generations get to enjoy the diversity of bird species that we do today," Elliott said. "Banding for the public is great because any time you can let a person hold a bird in their hands you touch their lives forever. They really understand that this is a living, breathing creature and they really feel the connection."

SideBar: If you go

What: Hummingbird banding demonstration

When: 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 Saturday, weather permitting

Where: Bird Watcher Supply, 1999 Mall of Georgia Blvd., Buford

More information: 770-945-9499