Concho Valley

2013 Hummer House Banding Analysis
During the 2013 banding season, the Hummer House Ranch along with a good portion of the Concho Valley region still showed residual effects of the historic drought that began in late 2010 and continues to some degree until this time. Sufficient rains allowed for the maturation of most grasses and forbs on the ranch during both 2012 and 2013 even though the area will not completely recover from the worst effects of the drought for some time. The end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 passed without recording significant rainfall. We hope this is not a trend that will continue through the springtime.

Our research goals for banding passerine birds at the Hummer House required that we shift almost entirely from banding at the headquarters to banding stations located at remote locations across the ranch. Although our total banding numbers for the past two seasons were lower than some of the previous seasons. At least 80% of the passerine birds banded at the Hummer House in the previous fifteen plus years were banded at the feeding station near the headquarters and represented disproportionate numbers of seed-eating birds that gather at the feeding site. Although limited educational demonstrations during the current year involved banding at the headquarters, more than 98% of passerines banded this year were banded at our remote sites

Three locations were the focus of data gathering efforts at the Hummer House. The South Concho River Location (SCR-1) operated for the third year during the breeding season and was actively used as a site for Painted Buntings and other passerine birds during the fall. The East Windmill area (EWA) was used as a banding site for our Painted Research during the summer and was also used to sample late season migrants and winter residents. We used the Spring (SPR) site throughout spring migration season but stopped gathering data from that site when the landowner announced plans to sell that area to an outside buyer in the early summer.  We then started surveying other areas for use as a third site for our research. The end of the 2013 season marks the third year of data collection on the ranch and we are more than confident that the number and species of birds banded over the past three seasons are very reflective of the populations residing in or migrating through this habitat. We have also started to separate populations of target birds in the station areas.

The total number of birds banded in 2013 was 3151 individuals. This was equal to the greatest number banded during any season when a single banding team gathered data at the ranch. Our total number of species for 2103 was 91 individual species, two hybrids, and one species (Cooper's Hawk) that was recaptured but not banded during that season. Our total of passerine birds numbered 2066.  This represents the greatest number of passerine birds ever banded in the natural habitats of the ranch during a single year. At the conclusion of the season, 49,233 birds have been banded at the ranch. The five new species banded on the ranch total raised that total to 154 species and two hybrids.  The number of Black-chinned Hummingbirds banded was 1009 which was more than the historical average for the species and brings the total to 14,063 banded on the ranch. We have averaged more than 90 species per year during the three years of station banding on the ranch.

During the 2005 banding season, the same number of birds were banded as this current year. The numbers for both years reflect the difference between systematic banding in station areas as compared to random banding at the feeding station.



3150 total

3151 total

1308 Hummingbirds

1085 Hummingbirds

1842 Passerine Birds of 42 species

2066 Passerine Birds of 89 species

1711 were of the top ten species banded

1216 were of the top 10 species

131 represented 32 other species

851 represented 79 species other species

8 species had more than 100  individuals banded

2 species had more than 100 individuals banded

1 new species was  added to the ranch total

5  new species were added to the ranch total

Although the winter birds were late in arriving at the ranch at the conclusion of 2012 and after a break for the holidays, we began 2013 with greater than average numbers of most species of winter birds. Record numbers of such species as Lark Buntings, Savannah, Vesper, and Field Sparrows were recorded during January and February at the East Windmill Station.  Banding in the riparian stations did not yield significant numbers of birds during the late winter and early spring but record numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches were encountered during this time. The early spring was also significant with the banding of a hybrid Towhee. It was the first recorded specimen within the Concho Valley Area.

Spring migration started slowly for most species. The numbers for many common warblers and buntings reached average levels as the season progressed but many of the less common species were not encountered at all during this time. Some species such as Yellow Warblers , Yellow-breasted Chats, and Common Yellowthroats  were present but in much reduced numbers.  We ended the spring migration having recorded a single Tennessee Warbler as our only accidental species for the spring migration.  Not one migrant species was encountered in record numbers at any of our stations.

The many of the significant records for this year occurred during the summer breeding season.  The breeding season conditions were excellent for most species. Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Painted Buntings both had excellent reproductive seasons on the ranch and signaled a complete recovery from the poor reproductive seasons experienced during the worst of the drought. Both of these will be discussed in separate writings. One of the most exciting events of the summer was the return of a breeding population of Eastern Bluebirds to the riparian stations of the ranch. They have been absent from the ranch during breeding seasons for the past 10-15 summers but we were pleased to net  both adults and hatching years birds in breeding season. Vermilion Flycatchers are normally banded at the ranch in small numbers each breeding season but 2013 was special for this species. We banded more than the double the previous record for this species.  Aside from the reproductive success of many breeding species, the summer was also noteworthy because of the encounter of a Clay-colored Sparrow on July 16. There are no other records of the species in Texas outside of spring and fall migration.

The early fall migration season did not yield the number of migrating hummingbirds that were present in 2012 but these numbers approached an average year for this group.  Warblers were slow to make an appearance in 2013 but Empidonax Flycatchers were present in sufficient numbers to make the early part of the season interesting. We banded five species of Empids during the fall and encountered record numbers for both Willow and Least Flycatchers. Once the warblers started to arrive, Yellow Warblers and Wilson's Warblers were encountered in record numbers.  Nashville Warblers and MacGillivray's Warblers were a bit above expected numbers but Orange-crowned Warblers were late in arriving at the ranch and when they did arrive, their numbers were much reduced from previous fall seasons. We also failed to encounter many of the less common warbler species at all.

As migration continued into late fall and early winter, we started to encounter winter residents returning to the ranch. The number of birds encountered for most species were near average except for Savannah Sparrows and Lark Buntings which were uncommon.  We were extremely pleased to encounter returning Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Lincoln Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows and Spotted Towhees from previous banding years at the ranch. The Song Sparrows were the first of this species to be encountered as a returning bird. This period was also marked by the arrival of many Blue Jays to the ranch. The ranch had gone without a sighting of Blue Jays for more than 25 years when they first appeared again in 2011. Three were banded during that season and then they were absent in 2012. We banded seven additional birds this fall in a fairly short period before they disappeared from the ranch once more.

Brown Thrashers and Western Bluebirds have been present on the ranch in limited numbers during previous migrations and into the winter but neither species had been banded on the ranch until this fall. Two brown thrashers and five Western Bluebirds were banded this season. It was first thought that both species were migrating across the ranch but that was not the case as both of the thrashers and two of the bluebirds were recaptured in early January of 2014. These two species raised the total banded on the ranch to 154.

In 2013 most of the species that we encounter at the ranch had recovered from the worst effects of the drought on ranch. The consistency and coverage of our banding efforts were better than we had previously been able to maintain in past years. At the end of the year, I felt satisfied that 2013 was our best effort at establishing the population and status of the birds that occur there.  Breeding success was evident for most species.  Both the east windmill station and the areas near the South Concho River yielded large numbers of hatching year Painted Buntings and other resident songbirds in our systematic banding in July and August.  Record numbers  or near record numbers of birds were recorded for more than 40 species of birds. I believe that some fall migrant species from the mid-western states were not fully recovered from the summer drought of 2012 in those states. Although we have good experience with the birds in these habitats,  we have not been present long enough to even grasp a hint of the range and variations in migratory routes of the eastern species that are usually present in the fall at the ranch. We await answers for some of our questions next season but realize that next season will yield as many new questions as answers for these questions.

2012 Hummer House Banding Analysis

After the historic drought of 2011, we entered the 2012 banding season with more questions than answers.  Most of the birds that breed on the ranch suffered through the drought with minimal breeding success. The few hatching year birds that were banded in 2011 had low body weights and most showed signs of the stresses associated with the drought.  The lack of resources forced many birds into the South Concho River corridor which resulted in many unusual records for the ranch.

In early 2012, this residual lack of resources led many species that are usually winter residents at the ranch to winter elsewhere. The number of birds and bird species on the ranch in January and February was well below any year since banding efforts started on the ranch. Regular efforts were undertaken throughout the month of March with minimal results. Although many of the early migrant species were present during that month, the number of birds per species was less than 50 percent of normal.  Golden-crowned Kinglets were the only exception to this trend.

During the peak of migration, we encountered most of the expected migrant species passing through the ranch.  Many migrants that breed in the mid-western and eastern states were present in average numbers while migrants that breed in the western states were absent or present in lower than average numbers. Lazuli Buntings are always a springtime treat at the Hummer House but we managed to band only one of this species during the spring. Clay-colored Sparrows, Brewer's Sparrows, and Field Sparrows were not banded in the spring.

By the start of the breeding season, late winter and spring rains resulted in good vegetative growth for most grasses, forbs and trees. Even though the populations of most birds that breed on the ranch were below average at the start of the breeding season, they seemed to start breeding early and many species produced multiple clutches of offspring.  More than 50% of all birds banded at the South Concho River MAPS station during the breeding season were hatching year birds of 23 species. Last season, we banded fewer than twenty hatching year Painted Buntings on the entire ranch.  As a result, we encountered only five second year birds during the 2012 season. Only two of those were returning banded birds. This season, we were able to band 300 plus hatching year birds and eagerly await the returns in 2013.  We also banded more than 50 hatching year Summer Tanagers. These two species along with such breeding species as Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Blue Grosbeaks, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, Vermilion Flycatchers and Ladder-backed  Woodpeckers, to name a few, enjoyed a banner year of breeding success. Yellow-throated Vireos were the only notable species that did not enjoy a good breeding season.

As we started out fall migration banding, we anticipated that numbers and species of the mid-western and eastern breeding birds would reflect the drought that had extended to that region. Our concerns were well founded. Although our efforts were not diminished, we banded 50 percent fewer migrants than we have banded in the past five seasons.  We also failed to band fifteen species that were present in 2011.

If eastern neo-tropical songbirds were limited, the opposite was true of migrant western hummingbirds. We encountered more Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds than we have ever encountered in the fall at the Hummer House. We also banded these species at other locations across the Concho Valley and continued to observe and band Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds through the middle of December. The banding of six winter hummingbirds at the Hummer House included two Allen's Hummingbirds which is an astounding total for the site and the region.

During the late fall and early winter, the number of passerine birds continued at a low ebb at the three different stations located on the ranch. Winter residents were late to arrive at the ranch and several species such as White-crowned Sparrows were not present until near the end of the year.  Permanent residents in the arid sections of the ranch have not rebounded as rapidly as other areas of the ranch. Both of these factors contributed to low species and numbers particularly at the East Windmill banding station.

During 2012, a total of 2371 birds were banded at the Hummer House which raises the total number of birds banded at the Hummer House to 46,082.  Eighty-two species of birds are represented in yearly total. The Alder Flycatcher and the Cassin's Sparrow were added to the number of species banded at the ranch which brings the total to 148 species. The yearly total of birds is below the historical average at the ranch and the 82 species represents the second largest number of non-invasive species banded at the Hummer House in a year. 

The number of birds banded this season is 153 fewer than last season using similar systematic efforts at the banding stations across the ranch. As we entered the fall season, our numbers were well ahead of 2011 levels due to the large number of hatching year birds but the reduced numbers of fall migrants led to this shortfall of our annual banding numbers.

Banding records by species have been kept for more than eighteen years at the ranch.  This year, we banded the highest annual total for 22 species at the ranch. Most were breeding species. For example, hatching year Summer Tanagers, Ladder Backed Woodpeckers, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers alone approached record numbers for these species. However several records were recorded for birds that have no obvious explanation. We encountered record numbers of Louisiana Waterthrushes and Northern Waterthrushes and migrant hummingbirds also recorded their highest annual totals.

2011 Hummer House Banding Analysis


During the fall and winter of 2010-2011, the Hummer House along with most of the state of Texas was in the grasp of a historic drought and there was little hope that the drought would be over soon. With food and water in short supply across the area, many species of birds that are normally residents in the winter season were either present in very small numbers or totally absent from the ranch. So few winter birds were present that we concentrated our early season bird banding attempts on permanent resident birds and used the efforts as training opportunities for our banding team. Against this background, few knowledgeable birders could have predicted a long and successful banding season in 2011.

Along with these factors, our research goals for banding passerine birds at the Hummer House required that we shift most of the emphasis from banding at the headquarters to banding stations located at remote locations across the ranch. It was assumed that the total number of birds banded during the year would decrease dramatically since at least 80% of the passerine birds banded at the Hummer House in the previous fifteen plus years were banded at the feeding station near the headquarters and represented disproportionate numbers of seed-eating birds that gather at the feeding site. Although limited educational demonstrations during the current year involved banding at the headquarters, more than 95% of passerines banded this year were banded at our remote stations.

These locations were the focus of three data gathering efforts. We began operation of a MAPS Station at the South Concho River Location (SCR-1) during the summer breeding season. We conducted migrant banding at the large spring (SPR) during spring and fall migration. The East Windmill area (EWA) was used as a banding site for late season migrants and winter residents. We collected data from all three locations for use in our Painted Bunting study. Although several years of data will be necessary for our research, we are confident that the number and species of birds banded during this year are more reflective of the populations residing in or migrating through this habitat. We also believe that we can begin to separate populations of target bird species residing near these stations. The East Windmill Area will be further developed and become a primary banding site for our Painted Bunting Study during 2012. The SPR site has been expanded for the beginning of spring migration with the addition of a three level aerial net and three additional ground nets downstream from headwaters of the spring.


As expected, the total number of birds banded this year was well under the average for the past five years. This year's total of 2500 birds was approximately 1300 birds below the average. However this year's total consists almost entirely of birds banded randomly within the natural habitats of the ranch. The selection of our banding sites seems a larger factor than the effects of the drought on the total number of birds banded.

This deviation from the historical average was primarily caused by two separate factors. We were unable to band hummingbirds during the first two thirds of the banding season as we waited for approval of our Hummingbird Banding Permits. Although Kelly Bryan, Fred Bassett, and Bob Sargent banded hummingbirds during this time and helped us in our preparation, they were not present often enough to overcome the shortfall caused by our lack of a hummingbird banding permit. We banded 320 fewer hummingbirds this year than the five year average.

Ninety-nine species of birds were banded at the Hummer House during this banding season. Fifty-four species were banded in numbers exceeding the previous records for these species on the ranch. Thirty-four species were banded in numbers equal to or above the historical average for the ranch. Eleven species were banded in numbers well below the historical average. Eight species were seed-eating birds that in the past have been banded almost exclusively at the headquarters feeding grounds. This year, they were banded in small numbers at the remote banding stations. We banded 1470 fewer of these eight seed-eating species as compared to the five year average. Two of these eleven species were hummingbirds whose numbers were impacted by the permit factor discussed above and one species was the Northern Mockingbird that does not commonly reside in two of three station areas.

The drought was probably a major factor in our banding this year but not in the manner anticipated. We started our year with the migrant banding study that is conducted at the large spring north of the headquarters (SPR). From the first, we had higher numbers of birds than we had previously experienced at that location. We also added new species of birds to the Hummer House banding list and encountered larger than expected numbers of previously rare species. In early May we opened the South Concho River MAPS Station (SCR). MAPS stations are designed to thoroughly sample the breeding birds in a confined area and typically produce limited records of banded birds. Less than one hundred birds per season is a typical number of records. We banded 53 birds in the first session and this trend continued throughout the summer. We finished the MAPS season with 320+ birds. The number of birds encountered during the fall migration season continued the trend. More often than not the nets at the SPR station had to be closed when our banding crew was unable to handle the volume of birds in a safe manner.

Throughout migration and the summer breeding season, many more birds than normal relied on the riparian corridor near the SCR and SPR stations for food and water. With two out of three of our banding stations in the corridor, we banded more birds than could have been anticipated even in the best of years. Throughout both migrations seasons, we caught 89.7 birds per hundred net hours at the SPR station and 49.4 birds per hundred net hours at the SCR Maps Station. Both of these banding ratios are impressive by any standard. The number of birds per hundred net hours at SPR in 2010 was 52 and was 39 for 2009.

In addition to the numbers cited above, the variety of species was also well beyond what might have been expected. Ninety-nine total species were banded on the ranch during this banding season. This compares to a previous record of eighty-four species in 2009. That total included one cowbird species and three non-native invasive species that live on the ranch. No invasive species or cowbirds are included in this year's count. During this year, nine new species were added to the birds banded on the ranch and brings that total to one hundred and forty six. Twenty-eight species that were banded this year began the year with fewer than five specimens banded on the ranch during the past fifteen plus years. Eleven species had more specimens banded during this season than their grand total for the past fifteen plus years. Six more species missed this standard by a very small margin.

Prior to this year, ninety-eight percent of all the birds ever banded at the Hummer House were members of the thirty-eight most common species banded there during the past fifteen plus years. In last year's terms, that left two percent of the birds banded to be spread over the remaining 98 species that had been banded there during this time. In plain words, a lot of birds have been banded there over time, but a large percentage of these were repeated bandings of the most common species. During this season we banded all of these most common species except the Inca Dove, Mourning Dove and the Mountain Bluebird. Due to the drought, there were very few Mountain Bluebirds present during winter and fall of this year. The Inca Doves and Mourning Doves have shown a decline in numbers over the past few seasons but we should have banded these species if we had spent significant effort at the feeding ground. The only White-winged Dove that we banded this season was banded at the feeding ground. Including the new species that we encountered this season, we banded 64 species of birds that until this current season were part of the two percent that were seldom banded. Sixteen of these 64 species breed on the ranch and several others are winter residents. Our systemic efforts within these natural habitats have given us an entirely new picture of the birds that reside within and migrate through these environments.

Given the chicken and egg nature of this season, one must ask the obvious question: were the numbers cited above caused entirely by the drought or did they result from the new emphasis on systematic banding efforts in remote areas of the ranch? It seems logical that the drought accounted for some of the shift in species populations and thus changed our results for this season. However, I believe that our systematic banding efforts throughout the season in three established station locations accounted for a significant percentage of our positive results.

Although attempts were made to be consistent in all our efforts throughout the season, we did vary our schedule somewhat when we banded with Kelly Bryan in the Davis Mountains and when we were involved with hummingbird training at different times during the spring and summer. Line graphs involving catch rates for various species readily identify those times. Most unusual species were not netted in sufficient numbers to statistically analyze. However, it seems logical that if we fail to net expected numbers of more common species because of missed efforts, we also fail to establish records of unusual species during these times. Some species do not have an extended migration period. Failing to make efforts during a limited migration period could eliminate records of those species completely.

While the drought may not have been totally responsible for our banding records described above, it was the primary factor in the limited breeding taking place on the ranch during this season and will be a factor on the number of birds banded for years to come. The data gathered from our MAPS station is designed to measure the nesting success of our summer resident birds. Once nesting is completed, data is gathered to predict the survival rate of the offspring. The data from last summer indicates an extremely poor year for the reproduction of most birds. Based on our banding of hatching year birds, hummingbirds seem to have been the most successful of our breeding populations. Species such as Painted Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Lark Sparrows and some species of vireos were mostly unsuccessful. We have concern for the species within the next few years. The MAPS station is located on some of the most favorable habitat available for these birds. If they were unsuccessful there, the more arid habitats were also unsuccessful. Many breeding species stopped their breeding efforts and migrated out of the area well ahead of normal migration patterns. The seed-eating species that feed at the headquarters may have been more successful.

There were two other notable records during the banding year. There are no previous breeding records of Black-and-white Warblers in the Concho Valley. During this breeding season, ten members of this species were banded at two of our stations. Adults and hatching year birds were banded throughout the summer giving a strong indication that these birds are making attempts at breeding in this area. The second event was the banding of five Baltimore Orioles during the fall migration season. Previously only one of this species had been banded within the previous twenty years. We banded five of these birds this year over an extended period in the fall migration. Reports from across the state indicate that many member of this species migrated in a more westward pattern than normal years. The drought was surely the primary cause of this shift. The trends that we established for Painted Buntings will be addressed in a separate report.

It is my sincere belief that the efforts undertaken this season at the Hummer House represent a true snapshot of the populations and movements of birds that are part of the ranch. We have attempted to make each effort a systematic effort that can be correlated mathematically and logically to the each of the other efforts made during the season. We anticipate continued successful efforts in the months and years to follow.