Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Banding Birds in Seattle

As you know from the previous post, I was in Seattle to visit my son. However, he had tickets for Book of Mormon in Portland, so would be out of town for a couple of days.

Being the best son I have (also the only one), he hooked me up with Emily Runnells, and ornithology major at U. Washington, and a volunteer bander with the Puget Sound Bird Observatory. She picked me up early and we drove out to the Shoreline area in Seattle.

It turns out the banding station is at the head bander's house. Four mist nets were stretched out in her backyard and side yard. Since it was cold out, volunteers were going back to take the birds from the nets every ten minutes.

 Birds were "held" in small cotton sacks and hung on a line in the order in which they had been caught. The team tried to process birds quickly, since they could become hypothermic if exposed to the cold too long without food or movement.

However,  there was a heat lamp and a warming box in case the birds were less than responsive after being banded and processed. I saw two or three birds placed back in their little bags and put in the heating box. After a few minutes you could see their recovery, as they quickly flew off when released.

The first part of processing a bird is the banding. There are several different-sized bands to fit different leg diameters. The idea is to have the band snug enough to stay on and not irritate the bird, but not so snug that it would cause friction or constriction. Each band has a unique identification number which goes into a national database, in case the bird is recaptured or found after it has died.

Once the band is on (in case it escapes before the rest of the data can be recorded), the bird is processed by collecting a variety of data. Below, split between two photos) is the data collection sheet. There is one sheet for each size band, which usually groups the same species of birds on that sheet as well.

 I helped record the data, which became challenging when two or three banders were giving me their birds' information at the same time.

In the above photo, Cathy is blowing on a Dark-eyed Junco's breast feathers to reveal the skin underneath and estimate how much fat the bird has. At the same time she can check it for any parasites.

Below, the Junco reveals some wear in its wing feathers. The second photo shows how the wing should look. Can you tell the difference?

It's also nice to have a close look at the markings on its tail feathers!

Another measurement is the wing chord, the length of the longest primary feather. Here a Pine Siskin is being measured.

As a "thank you" for helping, I got to release a Dark-eyed Junco.

One of the two "best" birds of the day was a Townsend's Warbler. This would have been a life bird for me. However, Avie and I saw one several years ago in Anzalduas Park in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Nevertheless, she is a beautiful bird and we all turned into paparazzi, snapping plenty of photos before she was released.

A Spotted Towhee was the largest bird we netted. Here's a great look at the "spots".

But, by far, the handsomest bird of the day was this textbook-perfect Red-breasted Nuthatch. The cameras were snapping away with him.

You have to love the detailing on the tail feathers here!

I think all birds look like "Angry Birds" when photographed face on.
 So, a big THANK YOU to my son Dan, for arranging my outing, to Emily, for being my guide and chauffeur, and to lead bander Cathy, for allowing me to join them.

No comments:

Post a Comment