Fred Bassett spent 20 years flying fighter jets for the Air Force, but these days, you will find him navigating the roadways in search of hummingbirds.

Through 19 winters of traveling throughout the southeastern United States, Bassett has become well known as an expert in his field as a master hummingbird bander.

If anyone has a hummingbird that they cannot identify or that returns year after year, just call Bassett.

"People just seem to find me," he said.

Every winter Bassett travels throughout the southeast to band the birds and jokes that he tells people he owns a house in Montgomery, but he lives in a white pickup truck.

"This is my busiest time of year," he said. "It won't slow down until February."

His busy season began Nov. 15 and lasts until March 1.

Although hummingbirds are prevalent throughout the spring and summer, Bassett is intrigued by the winter hummingbirds that were previously thought to not be able to survive winter cold. He doesn't band the ruby throated ones, as there are so many of those about during the warm months.

"I am more interested in the birds of winter," he said.

Through banding, he has found they show up wherever and whenever they please. And, some live a lot longer than was previously thought, with the norm being three to five years. The world's record is held by one that lived to the ripe old age of 13. The record for one banded by Bassett is nine years.

Along the Gulf Coast, he has banded 11 different kinds of hummingbirds.

Bassett calls it a real science, and while he is technically not a scientist, he has published technical papers on banding and what he has learned.

In the spring, he heads north to band in Idaho, and in the summer on up to Alaska and Canada.

"I truly love hummingbirds," Bassett said. "They are amazing creatures. I used to get interested in a lot of different things, then get bored with it and quit. But you can't get tired of this. I am always learning something new about them. When I started banding, it took over. It's what I love to do."

Whenever someone calls, Bassett goes at no charge.

To catch the birds for banding, Bassett places the feeder inside a wire cage and holds the door open from a distance with fishing wire. When the bird goes in, he closes the flap.

"It flies around trying to get out and I reach in and take it out and place a tiny band on its leg. During training you learn how to handle them, and they actually calm down in my hand. I have even had them drink out of my hand," he said.

The band Bassett places on the bird identifies the bird for life. And people who have had the same bird return to their yard year after year get attached to "their" bird and think of it as family.

Many people leave feeders out and garden specifically for attracting hummingbirds. A list of nectar-producing plants that attract them is on his website.

"I have seen some amazing gardens planted for hummingbirds," he said. "It can be truly traumatic for them when it doesn't come back."

Visit his website at hummingbirdresearch.net.