Bird Banding 101

Date:  Saturday, May 17, 2008
Time:  6:30am – 11:30am
Weather: Mixed clouds, sun, some rain, quite cool
Banders and Assistants:  Scott Stoleson, Don Watts, Emily Thomas, Amy Morrison

I showed up at Audubon at 6:30am expecting a rather long day of observing and MAYBE recording data for the bird banders.  Lincoln's SparrowWas I ever in for a surprise – and a great first day of training.  Sure, I got to observe and record data, but I got so much more!  The time flew by and we did so much that I can’t remember the details exactly…  I tried to record as much as possible with my camera, but it’s hard to work and shoot at the same time!

The very first bird out of the net was a new one to me.  Turns out it was just passing through on its way to more northern breeding areas.  Lincoln’s Sparrows (Melospiza lincolnii) spend their winters in the southern US down to Central America.  Lincoln's Sparrow Range MapThey breed in Canada, Alaska and the Western US mountains.  We recorded a “2” under the fat column for this little migrant.  It’ll be cool if someone north of here re-captures our little bird and wonders where Jamestown is…

The rest of the birds we caught were typical birds of our area:  Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Common Grackle, Gray Catbird, Swamp Sparrow, House Wren, Blue Jay…  I recorded a lot of data and started to feel pretty comfortable with the data sheet and some of the codes.  I watched how Emily handled the birds during processing.  I tagged along on net checks and watched how Scott and the others carefully extracted the birds and placed them in little bags for transport.

Scott Removes Bird from Net

And that was all I expected.  I would have counted it a great first day of training even if that’s all I did!  So imagine my surprise when I heard Scott instruct Emily to let Jennifer band one!

Hadn't Quite Mastered the Hold YetMy first bird turned out to be a re-capture.  I was actually pretty happy about that.  A chance to learn to handle a bird without having to actually put the band on.  I was pretty clumsy with the holds on this first little Yellow Warbler.  Another recapture, a Gray Catbird, proved to me that I really need to get new glasses.  Had to take mine off to be able to read the band number!

Remove the Glasses to See the Band

Eventually, I got the hang of handling the smaller birds.  I was particularly proud of this female American Goldfinch, because I did everything from retrieve her from the net, to banding, right through to release.  Well… not everything… Amy recorded the data!

Goldfinch Pair

My first day was very rewarding.  I helped set up a mist net, recorded data, retrieved a bird from a net, banded a couple, processed a couple of re-captures, and even took down one of the mist nets.  I’m so looking forward to my next lesson!

Many thanks to the scientists and assistants from PA who are doing this banding project at Audubon and were so patient with a clumsy student such as myself:  Scott Stoleson, Don Watts, Emily Thomas, and Amy Morrison.  Also thanks to Bill Colter who took over my camera and snapped some shots of me in action!

There are a few more pictures of the day at my Flickr site:


10 thoughts on “Bird Banding 101

  1. Jen isn’t it exciting! The first time I handled a bird was such a thrill.
    Now Sarah Sargent of Audubon PA is teaching me how to retrieve them from the nets. Banding birds has been a very rewarding experience for me. Will you be at the Alegany Nature Pilgrimage?

  2. Not having ever been part of a bird banding operation, I was enthralled by your captivating description that not only captured the excitement of the moment but yours as well as you experienced a new and fascinating encounter with birds — not just seeing them but capturing,holding, banding and then releasing them back into the sky. Being a naturalist sure beats working in a lab.

  3. How exciting for you! I still remember the first bird I ever extracted from a net – a striking male Black-and-white Warbler. First bird banded was a juvie Cedar Waxwing. These experiences really stick with you, and it’s great you had such a wonderful first day! I wish you many more.

    It’s interesting to see differences from one station/operation to the next. I’d look at the way you guys are holding the birds for photographs and think you’re doing it “backwards” – but you’d probably think the same of mine!

  4. Congrats Jen and I can’t wait for you to be visiting the MAPS banding station! We will have many more birds for you to practice with! Let me know if you guys decide on a time to get together at the ANP?

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