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It’s hummingbird season in Alaska

The tiny birds make the mighty journey every spring, but scientists say only about 60% of them survive, which is why they are studying the rufous hummingbirds.
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 6:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Rufous hummingbirds are one of the smallest birds in the world and make one of the longest journeys — from traveling as far south as Mexico to breeding and nesting in Alaska.

“They are the longest distance migrant of any bird that we know of if you measure by body length,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Todd Eskelin. “So Arctic terns, we know fly 20,000 miles in their migration, but they’re a lot longer, so proportional to their body length, the rufous is the longest migrant of any of the birds in North America.”

The tiny birds make the mighty journey every spring, but scientists say only about 60% of them survive, which is why they are studying the rufous hummingbirds. Eskelin has been going to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage to band the birds in the area and find out more about their habits.

“Mostly what you are learning is how many birds you are banding, what proportion are males and females, and how many are coming back to that area, surviving the rigors of migration and coming back,” Eskelin said.

Eskelin is one of only three people in the state who holds the federal certification needed to put leg bands on hummingbirds. It’s a delicate operation that Eskelin performs quickly so the birds don’t become exceptionally stressed. He bands, weighs, and measures them in minutes before noting the sex and setting them free.

Even though the rufous population overall has declined, Eskelin said in general, the number hummingbirds in Alaska is growing, including the Anna’s hummingbird, some of which have been spotted in Homer and other coastal areas. Eskelin said climate change is certainly affecting the species, but as it warms in the Lower 48, it’s likely that more of hummingbirds will show up in Alaska.

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