Bucktoe Bird Banding

By: Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Last week, we held our annual bird banding program with Doris McGovern at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  Doris is a master bird bander from Media, PA.  We set the nets up early and had feeders stocked to bring in the birds.  7 adults and 10 Teen Naturalists attended the banding session.  Why are we doing this?  Education and science. 

The group assembles at the annual banding station at Bucktoe Creek Preserve. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Educationally, by watching a bander work, you learn about feather molt, how to age a bird, migration, feeding and fat (put on for migration), comparative weights of birds, and bird conservation.  There is also nothing like holding and releasing a bird that can get someone excited and more interested in birds.  For photographers, it is a great opportunity for bird close-ups.

Scientifically, we are contributing to the understanding of bird sizes, migration patterns, age, and distribution.  This year, we recaptured a Tufted Titmouse that had been banded at the location two years prior. 

Doris McGovern prepares to band a Tufted Titmouse.

Each bird is carefully extracted from the mist net, which is so fine and thin, that the birds can’t see it.  Next, they are aged, measured, fitted with a band with a unique number, and weighed.  They are also checked for fat level, which is graded on a scale from 1 to 3.  The fattest birds have plenty of energy for their upcoming migration.  Most local, non-migratory birds have no extra fat at all.  The unique number is catalogued with the US Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab.  This is where the data is kept that was collected for each bird.  If you ever find a band, or see a bird with a wing tag, neck collar, or other identifying marker, this is where you report your sighting for science.

Air is blown through a straw to separate the breast feathers in order to examine the fat reserves on this American Goldfinch. This bird had no fat, which is typical for birds that are not storing it for long-distance migration. Photo by Hank Davis.

In the course of our banding session, we had a steady stream of birds.  Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice made up the bulk of the birds caught.  Other birds we netted included an Ovenbird, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and White-breasted Nuthatch. 

A beautiful Black-and-white Warbler was a great surprise. Photo by Hank Davis.
Doris measures the wing length of a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Check out the cool shade of green on the birds head and back. Photo by Hank Davis

Bird banding exists not for recreation, but for science.  Master Bird Banders like Doris McGovern train for thousands of hours before they are given the reins at a banding station.  This is done so that birds are not injured and that everything is done to preserve their well-being, and that information is gathered in the correct way.  In visiting the banding station, we got up-close looks at birds, and had the thrill of learning how to hold one correctly and release them.  This is the educational part.  Perhaps one of our participants was inspired enough to enter the field of science, or at least appreciate birds that much more.

Joe, one of the Delaware Nature Society Teen Naturalists, releases a White-breasted Nuthatch after the banding process. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

If you like eating a good diner-style breakfast and watching birds afterwards, you may enjoy the program next Wednesday.  We hope to see you there.  Register here.

Birding and Breakfast at Ashland
Program #: F10-015-AS       Max: 20
Wednesday, October 6, 8 -11 am
Member/Non-Member: $20/$30
Leader: Joe Sebastiani

Enjoy a diner-style, full-plate breakfast at Ashland to start your day. Afterwards, take a walk to look for fall migrant songbirds like warblers, vireos, thrushes, and sparrows. Spend some time gazing skyward. It is the height of falcon migration after all!

1 thought on “Bucktoe Bird Banding”

  1. Pingback: Bird Banding at Point Reyes Observatory | Wandering in the Wind

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