The Banding Process
Many of our tools use when banding birds!
Last weekend I handed my camera over to Young Naturalist J to document our banding station for the day. Since this is an off weekend for me, I figured this would be a more than appropriate time to do this post since so many of my die-hard blogging friends have asked for this post. I sure hope this helps give you an idea on what we do at the banding station but do note that all photos (except the last one) were taken by Young Naturalist J!
The net and a Swamp Sparrow in the net.
The nets we are using for the MAPS station is what banders call “warbler nets” or “30mm mist nets”. They are 12 meters in length and 2.9 meters in height. They are hand made over in Japan with a very fine polyester mesh. We have on average 8 to 10 mist-nets that are place in areas where we anticipate the birds to casually fly into our net (no bate is used, we just catch them by chance). Being very fine mesh, they can be hard to see and the bird will get caught while trying to pass through the area. We check these mist-nets every half hour for six hours straight. Once birds are found in the nets, we remove them from the net and then place them into holding bags (see video below). Each net is thoroughly checked for birds since they can easily be hidden in the bottom of net (in like this Swamp Sparrow photo above).
Mist-nets are the safest way of capturing these birds and we only allow experienced banders in removing these birds from the nets. If birds are not removed properly they can be injured, so safety is our number 1 priority. We do train volunteers in bird extraction when the banding staff feel the volunteers are comfortable in handling the birds. The video above shows me extracting a Gray Catbird from the mist-net and yes, it is very typical for catbirds to vocalize like this (main reason I always call them Rat Birds).
Once we are back at the banding station we will begin the banding process. Before placing the band on the bird we need to be 100% confident that we know what species of bird it is. As in the photo above, we use many reference guides in helping us identify which species it is, the age, sex and other important facts regarding the bird. Failure in identifying the bird’s identity will require the bander in releasing it “unbanded”. This is science and all data we collect needs to be 100% accurate!!
Each bird has a different leg size; almost like us humans have different shoe sizes. We have many tools in determining which band size each birds uses but a leg gage is always the final determination when a band size is in question. Smaller birds like warblers use sizes 0A or 0’s and many Sparrows use sizes 1 or 1B’s. Catbirds use 1A’s and the larger birds like the American Robin and Cuckoo’s take a size 2. In the fall my Saw-whet Owls take a size 4. Failure to place the right band size on the birds leg could result in an injury or loss of the band (safety of the bird is our number 1 priority).
Each band is placed on the bird’s leg and will have a unique number inscribed on it. These numbers are issued to the birds; almost like us humans have social security numbers issued to us. The birds will have this same band number for the rest of its life and if ever captured again, the bird can be tracked through the Bird Banding Lab.
We collect many other measurements which include the age, sex, wing length, tail length, and weight. On some species the bill width or even looking as specific feathers is important for determining certain aspects of the bird. These are all recorded onto our data sheets and then entered into a computer database later on for looking up their capture history.
The birds are then released after being weighed (that is an Ovenbird after being weighed) and then begin to process the next bird. Young Naturalist J did capture a wonderful video of me banding a bird but is way too large of a file for me to upload onto the internet (sorry, I need high speed!). Typically we release the birds from the weighing-can but for special occasions we will release the bird on someone’s head (it’s a banding trick)!! Little tickle, tickle and away they go with hopes of being captured again in the future.
It seems very involved for the birds but from remove the bird from the net, processing and then releasing the bird can happen very quickly. We have had many individuals who are captured a few times a year for 4 or 5 years in a row. At all cost . . . the safety of the bird is our number 1 priority!!