Bird Banding

Raise Banding Nets

Raise Banding Nets

Through the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (ASRI) I enrolled this spring in a course about birds, taught by Charles Clarkson.  We were treated to a wealth of information from evolution to behavior, and song to identification.  This past Saturday (May 9) we were treated to a bird banding demonstration.  Charlie raised the nets in Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, RI.  Although the morning was relatively cool and foggy, we did have some interesting finds.

Once a bird flies into the net it must be released with care.  The rest position for a songbird’s foot is to have the toes closed, so that’s the first thing to do–free the feet.  Then, ever so gently, Charlie works the bird out of the net, one hole at a time.  Once freed, the bird is banded, with a careful notation of the species and the band number.  Then several measurements are taken–the length of the tarsus, the culmen, the wing, and the tail.  Finally, the bird is weighed, sexed, and aged, and then released.  Care must be taken with territorial birds to release them in the same location where they were netted.  Nothing worse for a male house wren defending a territory than to be released into another male’s territory!

Measuring Catbird Culmen

Measuring Catbird Culmen

I stayed for about three hours.  We netted several gray catbirds, a few American robins, a male house wren, a male eastern towhee, and a black-capped chickadee.  The chickadee had been banded by Charlie last fall, so it managed to survive the wicked winter RI experienced this year.  Robins seem to be a magnet for bird diseases, such as avian flu.  Although the ones we netted seemed to be healthy, Charlie did not want to risk contaminating the bags used for weighing the birds, so he released them without banding them.  No shortage of robins in RI anyhow, so no concern about data loss.

Birds vary in their reaction to being netted.  Some take it better than others.  The catbirds were all rather calm, but the towhee was definitely not pleased!  The chickadee repaid Charlie’s gentle release efforts with a nip on the finger.  Little bird, but with a beak made for cracking seeds!  Some things were interesting about the data.  The catbirds all weighed the same as catbirds netted last fall.  The little chickadee weighed a mere 10 grams, but the apparently larger house wren weighed in two grams lighter.  Did you know that the total weight of a bird’s feathers is more than the weight of the skeleton?

Jana Releasing Chickadee

Jana Releasing Chickadee

Having the birds up close and in hand provided great opportunities for photography, as well as for the tactile experience of holding a bird and allowing it to depart from your hand.  Because of concern about possible transmission of avian flu from birds to humans, anyone wanting to hold and release a bird had to sign a release form.

The eastern towhee provides a good example of what can happen–all too frequently, in my judgment–with naming birds over time.  About 20 years ago it was called the rufous-sided towhee, for reasons obvious in the photos.  But even earlier it was called the red-eyed towhee, even though the red eye is much harder to observe in the field than the rufous-colored sides.  Other interesting–and seemingly odd–bird names are the ring-necked duck, whose has a much more obvious ring about the bill, and the red-bellied woodpecker, which has much more noticeable red on the head.  Of course, the name red-headed woodpecker was already spoken for.

House Wren in Hand

House Wren in Hand

I have witnessed bird banding before.  This was typical of songbird capture.  Much larger birds, such as hawks and owls, do real damage to nets, so they are usually captured using traps and bait, such as rodents or pigeons.  Tiny little hummingbirds, on the other hand, can fly right through the holes in the nets, so finer nets must be used for them.  Also, since hummers have such a high heart rate to begin with, the stress of being captured can cause them to have a heart attack.  Consequently, a bander must gain additional certification in order to work with hummingbirds.

Comments

  1. Candy Powell says

    Great pictures and commentary, Laura. Thanks for sharing.
    Candy Powell

  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience

Leave a Reply