Look out! The next bird you see might be shedding light on the secret lives of birds. Great Parks utilizes the skills of bird banding researchers to uncover some of these mysteries. Bird banding requires special permits and at least two years of training from a master bander, but the information attained is invaluable.
Bird banding is a relatively simple process for tracking birds: capture birds, mark them, collect data and finally release them. In order to capture birds, most banders use mist nets. They resemble volleyball nets, but are about 30 feet long and have “pockets” to capture the birds. The bander carefully collects the birds out of the nets on a regular basis, usually at least every half hour. This ensures the safety of the birds.
After the birds are collected from the nets, they are given a mini-physical. Their wing length, age and weight are recorded. Any signs of injury or disease are also documented. This can be very helpful in tracking the health of birds and how well they can recover from injury. Other information, such as fat stores or brood patches, might be collected as well depending on the study. All of this data is input into federal database that links back to the bird should it be recaptured.
Ironically, in order to unwrap the secret life of birds, we have to wrap something around their legs: a band. To attach the band, the bander uses a special set of pliers that wraps a metal band around the bird’s leg. Bands come in different sizes. The band is similar to a bracelet that you might wear on your wrist – it must be small enough to not interfere with the daily activities of the bird, but big enough that it doesn’t constrict the bird’s legs. This new band becomes akin to a driver’s license or social security card. Each band has a unique number, which can be used to identify the individual bird.
The final step is release! Each bird is sent on his or her way with their new tag in hopes they will help us answer the many questions involving lifespan and reproduction. As part of the Great Parks’ mission to protect natural resources, our land managers use the information collected from bird banding to make better management decisions. So, the next bird you see might be carrying information on its legs!
Adam McCosham, Hub Naturalist, Miami Whitewater Forest