May 5th – Banding Should Be More Than Just Birds

Birding....it's catching. - G. Casimirri


Identifying birds as individuals by afixing a numbered band to their legs is important. It allows us to follow their movements, find out how old they get, how they molt, develop life histories, etc. But banding is also a wonderful opportunity to turn people of all ages on to the natural world around them and, as banders, we need to be aware of this and take the time to make sure that folks that go through our labs come out of them more in tune and sensitive to what’s around them. And so it was today as we had a group of young kids and mothers who wanted both to learn about and to experience birds up close. They got lots of opportunity – as we handled 60 birds (30 new and 30 retraps). Although the kids were pretty young, they had been well prepared by their moms and could identify a number of the commoner birds (as could their moms!).

Waiting for birds (and enjoying the grounds). - G. Casimirri


But it just wasn’t kids today; 2 middle-aged couples arrived to find out what Ruthven’s banding program was all about. They were just as interested as the kids and their anecdotes showed that they were paying attention to the avian world around them. There was one quite funny incident when everyone was in the lab at the same time. It had all the makings of an ad for Viagra/Cialis:

Let me back up just a second and start with this quote from The Birdwatcher’s Companion by Christoper Leahy. It’s from the section on “Male Reproductive Organs” [p. 609]: During the breeding season the testes of birds increase in size by hundreds or even thousands of times and the deferent ducts may quadruple in length, becoming heavily coiled and with a much greater diameter. In most land birds this enlargement of the ducts makes an external bulge in the lower abdomen, the cloacal protuberance;……..it is sometimes used by banders to determine the sex of species in which this is impossible on the basis of plumage.” So, for example, in birds like Song or Chipping Sparrows in which the sexes appear similar, I will blow apart the feathers on the bird’s abdomen to see if it has a “cloacal protuberance”; if there is, then I can safely identify it as a male.

Now, I’m not always sure about how to explain this in mixed company – males/females; young/old. So I usually do it unobtrusively and just tell the scribe the numerical code for the sex. In this case though I told the scribe that it was a young (SY) male by CP. One of the young moms, who was pretty keen and taking it all in, was all over this: “how can you tell it’s a male?”.
“Well…..” says I, “the genetalia swell and you can see it – it’s called a CP”. I felt that that this got the point across and no one was offended. But this wasn’t going to fly.
“Can I see it?”
“Sure.” ( reluctantly I part the feathers.)
“WOW!!”
Right away the other two moms were into it: “Let me see, let me see.” They were really impressed when I told them that the males would carry this around with them for about 3 months.
At this point….much to my surprise…the middle-aged moms wanted to see. They too were suitably impressed. And it was at this juncture that I thought about the ad: one of the wives looked at her husband and made a comment about keeping it up for any length of time and he?…..well, he just gave this wry smile and shrugged as if to say “what can you do?” Age, I guess, takes its toll…..Now don’t you think that would make a great ad?
Everyone was in a great mood after that.

But I digress….new long-distance migrants were sparse. The trees and shrubs have not leafed out yet and there’s not much for newly arriving insectivores to feed on. On census, the section in the woods was dead except for local residents (chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, etc.). The Solitary Sandpiper is still around – in the big pond below net 8.

Banded 30:
2 Mourning Doves
1 Tree Swallow
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 Gray Catbirds
1 Yellow Warbler
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
3 Chipping Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow
2 Swamp Sparrows
2 White-throated Sparrows
3 Red-winged Blackbirds
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
7 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 30:
1 Tree Swallow
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
3 American Tree Sparrows
9 Chipping Sparrows
1 Field Sparrow
2 Song Sparrows
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
6 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 Red-winged Blackbirds
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
1 American Goldfinch

ET’s: 53 spp.

Today’s Gallery (thanks to Giuliana Casimirri):

Clearing the traps. - G. Casimirri


A group net round.....felt a bit like the Pied Piper... - G. Casimirri


Tree Swallow - G. Casimirri


Never too young (or old) to help out. - G. Casimirri

Rick

1 thought on “May 5th – Banding Should Be More Than Just Birds

  1. Great post! (lol!) It is nice to see pictures with your recent entries. Interest in the program is building and I am sure your visitors are telling others to come as well. I hope I can make a visit this month, weather permitting.

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