Hummingbird Festival is a Humdinger

Marshall, KY – It's peak season as the Ruby Throated hummingbird fuels up and prepares for the 2000 mile migration to Mexico and Central America. The Land Between the Lakes Woodlands Nature Station held its annual Hummingbird Festival this past weekend. Our correspondent Paco Long-Mendez attended the festival. Here's his report.

- The hummingbird fits between Bill Hilton, Jr.'s thumb and forefinger. At about the weight of a penny, it's so small that the crowd strains to see it.

"Ok now this bird is particularly vocal, you can hear it squeaking, making noise, kind of a mewing sound."

- Hilton is Executive Director of the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in South Carolina. He's giving a workshop for the annual Hummingbird Festival at Land Between the Lakes. To capture the hummingbird for banding, he used a cage with a remote control door and a hummingbird feeder as bait. He transported the tiny bird in a soft mesh pouch to the table surrounded by people.

"Don't get emotionally involved. No you don't say aww look at the pretty little hummingbird. You say ahhhh, that's the sound of learning."

-Hilton is one of only 200 federally licensed hummingbird banders in the United States. He does this primarily at his nature center, but for the last seven years, he's visited Land Between the Lakes to band hummingbirds and educate through his workshops. He cautions that it takes more than attending a workshop to qualify for this precision job.

"You have to fabricate the hummingbird band. Cutting it out and forming it in to a ring and getting it on to the hummingbirds leg with out hurting the hummingbird in any way. It's sort of an art and a science and it take quite a while to do it properly so you can get certified to band hummingbirds. Typically you would train with someone who's another hummingbird bander."

-Why is it so important to band hummingbirds?

- Naturalist and Hummingbird Festival Coordinator Aviva Yasgur talks about what keeps bird enthusiasts coming back year after year.

"To learn a little bit more about them like where they go, how they survive. And learn some things people can do to help them out in the wild and maybe what people can do in their own back yards to help hummingbirds."

-In his workshops, Bill Hilton gives some tips about how to create safe habitats for hummingbirds. He says it helps to have plants that produce nectar that hummingbirds enjoy, like azaleas and honeysuckle. Shrubs and trees provide hiding places and shelter from the wild.

"And you also want to put in a water feature, like a little water fall or a pool that will attract insects, because a hummingbird can't just get by on flower nectar or sugar water from feeders. They need fats and proteins and they get that from the tiny insects that would be attracted to the water."

- The Nature Station grounds are alive with people and wildlife during the festival. Children run through a central garden, circling around hummingbird feeders, trying to keep up with them.

-Hummingbird enthusiast Teresa Gemeinhardt displays her photographs of hummingbirds. In 2008 she won the "Friends of LBL" 25th anniversary photography competition with the photograph," Buzz Off," featuring, of course, a hummingbird.

"I have a real love of birds and especially hummingbirds"

- Gemeinhardt attended Hilton's workshop last year. She says the challenging pace and information heightened her perspective and understanding about how to photograph these fast-moving creatures.

"You know sometimes when I've been photographing for three years you think you kind know a little bit. Then you take a workshop with Dr. Hilton and you realize there is a lot more to learn."

- Bill Hilton explains why he comes to LBL every year.

"To use hummingbirds to get people excited about learning more about nature and science in general."

- Hilton has already headed back to South Carolina to continue his hummingbird quest. For those of us, human or hummingbird, that missed him this year, there's always next year's festival.

For WKMS news I'm Paco Long-Mendez