Monday, May 31, 2010

Idaho Birder: Fred Bassett

Fred Bassett
Montgomery, Alabama
(bands hummingbirds in Idaho from mid-May to mid-August)

How did you get into birding?  Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person?  Did you have a “spark bird”?

I was casually interested in watching bird while I was an Air Force pilot but a more serious interest developed after retirement.  I was lucky to meet Bob Sargent who taught me to band and ignited my interest in studying birds in general and hummingbirds in particular.

Were you interested in birds and birding prior to getting into hummingbirds?

I started just trying to identify birds.  Starting to band all types of birds made me want to learn more about them.  That led me to start banding hummingbirds.

What got you into the hummingbird banding?

I started banding all types of birds at a large migratory banding station we have on the gulf coast where I continue to band each April and October.  After a couple of years, I started banding hummingbirds which doesn’t require a crew and lots of equipment like general banding.  I started traveling in the winter to identify and band hummingbirds in the Southeast, and doing that kind of hummingbird research pretty quickly became a full time passion.

Where and how many places do you travel to to do the banding?

In the winter, I am the hummingbird bander for south Alabama and Florida.  In  April, I band all types of birds during spring migration banding at Fort Morgan, AL.  Then I head west for summer banding.  I normally band in several states on the way to Idaho.  This summer I will band for a month in Texas, New Mexico, and Utah before getting to Idaho in mid May.  I band hummingbirds all over Idaho for three months from mid May until mid August.  I go back to Texas to band at several locations on the way home to Alabama.  In October, I band fall migrants at Fort Morgan before starting winter hummingbird banding.  I have banded hummingbirds at more than 1,000 locations from south Florida to California.

How many times have you been to Idaho for banding?

I have banded in Idaho for the past nine summers.

Do you have any fascinating tidbits of data related to Idaho’s hummingbirds you could share with us?

Hummingbird migration is a focus of my research.  Three years ago in Northfork, ID I caught a Rufous banded two years earlier near Victoria, BC.  Last summer in Inkom, ID I caught a Black-chinned banded in the winter of 2007 in New Orleans, LA. 

What percentage of banded hummers are recaptured in subsequent years?

The percentage of returns depends on where and when I band.  When I band during nesting season or on wintering grounds, I get about a 5% return rate.  It is much higher in some cases.  I have a 20% return rate for female Rufous wintering at homes in the Southeast.  Return rates for birds banded during migration are lower.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I don’t consider myself much of a birder anymore.  I spend so much time banding that I seldom go birding. 

Where is your favorite place to bird?

I enjoy going to new places to find rare birds or birds that weren’t known to be there.  That can happen anywhere.

What is your favorite bird or hummingbird experience?

This winter in Alabama and Florida, I recaptured two Rufous and a Black-chinned hummer back at homes for the eighth winter.  It is a real privilege to get to know individual birds like that.  I beg them to tell me where they go in the summer, but they won’t tell me.

Any funny or embarrassing birding or hummingbird experiences you would be willing to share?

Trying to catch hummingbirds for multiple times can be funny and exasperating.  Some get to know me and all my tricks.  I match wits with creatures with a brain the size of a BB and get beat often.  Once in awhile, a hummer will fly up the line I’m holding to close the trap door.  They will hover right in front of me as if to let me know I can’t catch them.

Which birding publications, websites, blogs do you read and recommend? is a web site that is a great introduction to hummingbirds. Most publications I read are technical guides which wouldn’t be of interest to most birders.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Which bird-related books in your home library do you recommend to other birders?

The book I most often recommend to birders is “Living on the Wind” by Scott Weidensaul which is about bird migration.

What future birding plans do you have?

I’m starting a new research project this summer to study the size of Black-chinned hummingbirds on their nesting grounds.  I want to see if the increase in size from south to north is gradual or if there are different populations.

Are you involved with any birding organizations?

I volunteer with the Hummer/Bird Study Group which does most of the winter hummingbird banding in the Southeast and runs the migration banding station at Fort Morgan, AL. Web site is  I also have started a non-profit organization called Hummingbird Research, Inc. to help with my research.  Web site is  The site is incomplete.

If one were interested, how would one go about joining the authorized hummingbird banding fraternity?

The Bird Banding Lab controls bird banding permits, and they have tightened requirements to get a permit.  They require banders to have a research project that adds to the knowledge of birds rather than just putting bands on birds.  You work with a master bander as a sub to develop the skills needed to band.  To get a master permit, you have to submit a research proposal to the Bird Banding Lab and have recommendations from three master banders.

Do you have a nemesis bird (a bird you have sought after, but it continually escapes being seen by you)? If so, which species?

I’m always trying to band a new hummingbird species.
Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

My daughter lives in Boise which is how I got started banding in Idaho.

Which species of hummingbird is your favorite?

I find all of them to be fascinating.  The one in my hand is my favorite.

What amazes you the most about birds?

How tough hummingbirds are always amazes me.  They appear to be such delicate creatures, but they are tough as nails.  They are real survivors.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Nothing to brag about.  Hummingbirds keep me humble. The more I learn about them, the more I realize how little I know.

Total life list?

No lists.  I’m more interested in studying birds than checking off new species.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Ecuador. 150 species of hummingbirds there blew my mind.

Your mission in life as birder?

Do original research that adds to what we know about hummingbirds and share it in hopes of making life easier for them.

1 comment:

  1. We love, love, love Fred! We've been to two of his bandings in the foothills above Boise and plan on going again this year! It's a family event.