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This Adventure is For The Birds

GCBO's Annual Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza

It’s been a long summer filled with hot days and, sadly, no birding adventures. Besides the fact that summer is not the best time for bird photography, my scheduled has been packed with book writing and marketing projects. But, with September, and hopefully cooler weather, just around the corner, my mind has begun to wander in the direction of a new birding adventure. Lucky for me, Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (GCBO) popped up in my Facebook feed and screamed “BIRD NERD FUN”!

Located in Lake Jackson, GCBO actively works towards restoring and preserving coastal habitats for birds and other wildlife along our Gulf Coast and other habitats around the world, and education is a big part of their mission. Their annual Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza is a family friendly event featuring educational opportunities, hands on learning displays, and (the big draw of the event) hummingbird banding demonstrations.

I’ve often wondered about the bands that I see on the legs of birds when I’m out and about. I’ve seen little guys like painted buntings, titmice, and chickadees with bands while visiting our state parks, and who can miss the 2-3 bands per leg on our local flock of whooping cranes? Most of the bands are silver, but others are different colors. Most have numbers, and I’ve been told by other birders that if you report the number to a specific website, you will receive a history for that bird. Lots of who’s, what’s, where’s, and how’s, and I had no idea where to begin! Luckily, I know a guy… and that guy, Martin Hagne, GCRO Executive Director, was kind enough to take some time out of his busy day to explain more about the purpose and importance of birding banding.

Many birds, including hummingbirds, migrate hundreds and even thousands of miles each year as they travel to their seasonal habitats. According to Martin, banding a bird serves many purposes including helping scientists to learn more about a species’ migration routes, lifespan, health, and whether that specific bird comes back to the same place every year (confession: Martin gave me a fancy word to describe that last item, but I couldn’t read my notes well enough to decipher the spelling).

During an event, such as GCBO’s Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza, fine, soft nets are carefully placed around feeders and closely monitored by trained specialists who gently remove the birds, check and log their weight and measurements, note the health and age of the bird, log in the band number, or place a band on the bird if it doesn’t have one, and finally release the bird back into the wild. Ideally, this entire process takes less than five minutes, and the birds are closely monitored the entire time to make sure they aren’t under undue stress.

Like other organizations who participate in bird banding research, GCBO works with the Bird Banding Laboratory (a department of the U.S. Geological Survey - USGS). The Lab provides GCBO with individually numbered silver bands that the specialists use to tag the birds. Additionally, GCBO will occasionally add different colored bands to netted birds to aid researchers who are observing birds in the field. Other larger birds, such as the whooping cranes, are given transmitters that relay information to scientists.

Intrigued with this whole idea of bird banding, I asked Martin if I could join his team of bird banding specialists. “Unfortunately, no,” he quickly responded, because, apparently, becoming a bird bander isn’t something just “any bird nerd” can do. Interested individuals must first apply to be an apprentice in addition to finding a federally licensed bander to agree to take them on. Next comes several years of study and training as the apprentice works their way through the certification course. Lastly, the bander can only work on a federally certified project. It’s nice to know that my little feathered friends are in good hands when they go through the banding process.

So, what do you do if you see a banded bird in the wild or discover a dead banded bird? Visit Bird Banding Laboratory (​ where you can log in your sighting. And what do you do if you want to see birding banding first-hand or participate in other bird and nature events? Jump in your car, and head out to GCBO’s  Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza, held this year on Saturday, September 18th and 25th from 8am-Noon! This fun event takes place at the peak of hummingbird migration, and is a once a year opportunity to see these amazing birds up close. Watch as experts carefully catch and band these tiny travelers. You can even sign up to symbolically adopt one! XHX will also include guest speakers, live animals, kids’ activities, door prizes exhibitor booths, snacks, GCBO garage sale, and native plant nursery. $5 for adults, kids 12 and under are free!

For more information about GCBO, visit them online at or on Facebook at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.

About the author

Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl Johnson has developed quite a following as a wildlife photographer working under the pseudonym “Backyard Bird Nerd.” Her photos have been featured in magazines, websites, and art galleries. As the owner of an advertising agency, writing has always been a part of her life and career. Her literary work has included producing text for websites, brochures, television and radio commercials, and a variety of magazines articles. Delving into the world of children's literature has been an exciting and challenging adventure, and pairing these books with her love of photography has proven to be the perfect outlet for her passions and talents. When not prowling around in nature looking for something to “fly” by her lens, she lives in South Texas with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

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Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl Johnson

P.O. Box 3926
Victoria, Texas 77903

If you would like to see my books or art, please stop by my offices Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm
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