Bird Banding Here Today

Sunday, February 19, 2012

By Christine Southwick

Perhaps you have seen a sign in your neighborhood that says, “Bird Banding Here Today.” What does that mean? Why band birds, anyway?

With habitat loss being the number one cause of bird deaths, the habitat that each species depends upon for survival needs to be protected. The majority of the birds in question are migratory. The trees or specific vegetation needed for nesting, and the wintering locations bird use need to be identified and saved. Just as importantly, their resting stops that contain sustaining food and water along their flyways also need to be safe-guarded if they are to reach their breeding grounds at one end, and their warmer “wintering grounds” at the other end of their migration.

Tools of the trade: bird book, pliers
Photo by Christine Southwick

But, how do you know one bird from another? Is that robin, or that chickadee, that you saw yesterday the same bird that you saw today, or are these each different birds just passing through?

The best way to study individuals or a species is to put some sort of marker on them: for perching birds (Passerines) that’s usually silver numbered bird bands, sometimes combined with colored bands. Each banded bird has a metal numbered leg band stamped with a unique number recorded by the national Bird Banding Lab. These numbered bands are issued to Master Banders who have applied for, and received a permit for each specific study.

Mist nets gently catch the birds
Photo by Becky Uhler

Passerines are usually caught using mist nets, a very safe and easily watched method. A mist net is ten feet high and usually either six or ten meters long. Five horizontal pockets run the full length to gently catch any bird that flies into the almost invisible barrier.

Trained banders carefully extract birds from the net and take it to the banding table, where the correct-sized band is fitted, and the bird’s age, gender, and general health is determined and written down on a 36-column legal sized data sheet. All this information is sent to the Bird Banding Lab and entered into a national database available to researches.

A young visitor gets the chance to hold a bird
Photo by Christine Southwick

There is a really neat opportunity to watch birds being banded here in Shoreline. From October through April there is a site in Briarcrest, one at Shoreline Community College, and a third on Lyon Creek in Lake Forest Park. Visitors are welcome, and more information is available on the Puget Sound Bird Observatory website

So, next time you see a sign, Bird Banding here, you’ll know that neighbors are doing an important scientific study to help birds that use this area in the winter. If you have time, come spend an hour or so and watch the process. You may even be given the opportunity to hold a bird.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she is sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.


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