Going strictly by the numbers, the hummingbird festival held Saturday on the grounds of the Lewis & Clark Interpretative Center was a roaring success.
Vernon Kleen, a retired avian ecologist, and a small team of volunteers trapped, banded and released 21 hummingbirds. That tops their combined total for all of the past four years, when 19 birds were banded and released.
“So we did four times as good,” said Kleen, who retired after 30 years with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
For three hours Saturday, Kleen’s group waited and watched special cages set up around the center. The hummingbirds, which on average weigh less than a penny, were lured into the cages by bowls filled with sugar water.
Once their prey fluttered into a cage, the volunteers pounced, gathering the birds into pink pouches and hustling them to a nearby table. There, other volunteers, in an extremely delicate procedure, fitted the birds’ legs with light-weight aluminum bands inscribed with a unique number.
“A lot of people like to see hummingbirds up close,” said Kleen, who belongs to Lincoln Land Association of Bird Banders.
As for the banding itself, that process helps researchers at different locations determine the size of the local hummingbird population, he said.
For Braden Stark, 11, the chance to interact with hummingbirds was a far better option than Saturday morning cartoons. Stark and his parents, Marcella and John Stark, of Glen Carbon, watched in rapt fascination as the hummingbirds descended into the cages.
“Bird are so cool,” Braden said. “They vary so much. You can have monster birds and you can have little birds like hummingbirds. It’s very cool.”
Hummingbirds are feathered dynamos on a constant hunt for calories. Their hearts beat about 1,200 times a minute, or about 18 times as fast as the human heart, while they can beat their wings up to 100 times per second. If people were required to eat food in the same proportion as hummingbirds, they would have to eat 250 Big Macs per day.
Mary Ann Smith, of St. Charles, Mo., marveled at all the hummingbirds which showed up in Hartford.
“In St. Charles, we were having trouble with our hummingbirds this year,” said Smith, formerly of Belleville.
Smith eagerly produced her iPhone and showed a visitor the dozens of hummingbird photos she had taken.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.