Bird Bling: The Why & How of Bird Banding Research
By Krista Botting, Summer Field Biologist
A Day in the Life
A typical banding day begins when the birds get up, just before dawn. Naturalist Tait Johansson and Field Biologist Krista Botting are often joined by several volunteers and observers to open the mist nets in the forested and marshy study plot in the Hunt-Parker Sanctuary.
Ten very fine nets, called mist nets, are set up in a mile-long loop trail in the study polot. The Team checks each net every 40 minutes for birds. When a bird is caught in the net, someone carefully removes them. This process can be a little nerve racking—some birds like Black-capped Chickadees can grab bits of the net in their claws and don’t like to let go. Others like woodpeckers have small barbs on their tongues that the nets can get stuck on. We work to extract the birds as quickly and safely as possible without stressing the birds. We carry the birds in light cloth sacks back to the banding station.
At the banding station, each new bird is given a small metal band around its leg with a unique ID number. The banders attempt to age and sex the bird, determine its breeding condition, check for fat build up and any newly grown feathers, and measure the length of the wing and the weight of the bird.
Bird banding is tiring, but rewarding work as each check of the nets yields more and different birds.
Birds that are already sporting a band are recorded as “recaptures.” Sometimes we’ll recapture a bird from earlier in the day, earlier in the season, prior seasons, or even from other research projects. Recaptures allow us to track a bird’s life changes over time, and to improve our understanding of how the local populations of the different species are doing.
Why Band Birds
For the past nine years, Bedford Audubon has collected banding data as part of the Institute for Bird Population’s Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program. With the help of public agencies, non-profit organizations, and individual bird banders all across North America, MAPS aims to “provide critical, long-term data on population and demographic(s)… for over 150 target landbird species.” These data help scientists with estimates of adult survivor rates, population size, and growth. From this we can determine the cause of population trends and monitor the stability of bird species.
Bedford Audubon has completed four banding days this summer, and we are planning three more. If you are interested in joining us on our next banding day, please email Tait Johansson.