My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

The Banding Process

handfull of banding equipment

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 very fine nets Looking for birds in the nets

 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).

Learning about the bird!

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!!

our bands

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).

Placing the band on the birds leg

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.

taking a wing measurement of this sparrow chubby

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.

Ovenbird being weighed

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.

the release of the bird on his head

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!!

19 responses

  1. Marg

    Wow-great series Tom and J love all the shots and the info…….and love of course that you showed a catbird on the video the sound started before the picture so I knew exactly what I was going to see!

    You’ll never guess what we were called to go see today………..

    14 July 2007 at 8:54 pm

  2. Wonderful post! I wondered about the capturing process and how it all worked. Great video showing the bird being removed from the net. Thanks for the education!

    14 July 2007 at 8:59 pm

  3. Hi Tom,
    That catbird sounded really irritated! I’ve never heard them make that sound–must be they reserve it for banders!

    Thanks for the information on bird banding, I had no idea of everything that goes into it.

    14 July 2007 at 9:04 pm

  4. Cool Tom! I’ve been waiting for this informative lesson in bird banding. Thank you.

    14 July 2007 at 9:10 pm

  5. @ Marg – I knew you would love the video! You also would have enjoyed the video of me banding the catbird! LOL . . . Another parrot?
    @ Linda – thanks and glad you enjoyed this!
    @ Ruthie – they are doing what is called an “alarm” call and it thinks I am going to eat them! It is a “very” common thing for catbird to call like that!
    @ Lynne – thanks and glad you waited for me to get around to posting this!

    14 July 2007 at 9:22 pm

  6. Michael Head

    Very interesting! What part of the park is the station located in?

    14 July 2007 at 9:24 pm

  7. Thanks so much for doing this post. I had no idea so much was involved. You must be very busy on banding days. It is a very good way to track the movement and health of the birds.

    14 July 2007 at 9:29 pm

  8. I have been wondering how it all happens. Great lesson, Mon@rch. Amazing. Thanks!

    14 July 2007 at 9:54 pm

  9. Tom–thanks for the lesson. I too have wondered now banding happens. All the steps are most interesting.

    14 July 2007 at 10:10 pm

  10. Fascinating stuff!-Some day I’d like to see this take place live.

    14 July 2007 at 10:44 pm

  11. Great post. Thanks for a tour of the banding process.

    14 July 2007 at 11:25 pm

  12. Great post and a topnotch description of the process. Oh, and um…clearly you have too many pliers, so you can just send all your Mac’s to me :-).
    (sorry, inside joke, folks)

    15 July 2007 at 8:20 am

  13. This is so cool Tom! Thank you for describing what you do, and thanks to J for the great photos / video! That catbird is a noisy bird for sure!

    15 July 2007 at 8:49 am

  14. Marg

    I forgot to say yesterday Congrats on being up for Blogging Award-very well deserved

    and in case anyone else wants to know a guinea fowl!

    15 July 2007 at 10:47 am

  15. That is just so fascinating to learn more about the banding process. Wonderful shots by young naturalist J!

    15 July 2007 at 12:40 pm

  16. @ Mike – This is on the Red House Side!
    @ Ruth – thanks and it is up to others down south of me to be finding these birds!
    @ Mary – glad you enjoyed this! Bravo!
    @ KGMom – thanks and glad you enjoyed it!
    @ Larry – thanks and everyone is welcome to show up if they want!
    @ Shutterbug , thanks and glad you enjoyed the tour!
    @ Laura – thanks and ummm I don’t think soo! I have some AFO junk’s that I can send your way! BTW: only one of the Mac’s have pin’s in them! All other pin’s are broken! ;( But, I do use them still! Some of those pliers are Young Naturalist J’s!
    @ Pam – thanks and he does do a great job! Those Ratbirds are always like that!
    @ Marg – thanks and did you go vote for me?? Guinea Fowl?? How you going to catch that guy?
    @ Jayne – thanks and so glad you enjoyed this! Mr. J does a great job doesn’t he?

    15 July 2007 at 9:35 pm

  17. Great post. I like the video. I miss banding, I haven’t gotten to do any this year with all my lab work going on.

    ~ Nick

    16 July 2007 at 11:11 pm

  18. Great lesson – interesting seeing the bird just laying on his head, though – I thought I was going to read about an unfortunate incident!

    18 July 2007 at 9:45 am

  19. Marg

    NOW I’ve voted for you ;D

    somebody else caught the guinea fowl, someone who owns guineas!

    Oh boy I hope to see you this weekend!

    18 July 2007 at 9:43 pm

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