Photos and story by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader
Today, Ian Stewart, a University of Delaware Biologist visited the Bucktoe Campout camp at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve to conduct a bird banding session. We all learned what banding is, how it is used for research on birds, and how much training goes into learning how to band birds. We learned that banding is when you take a tiny metal ring and put it on a birds leg. The band has a unique number that goes into a database with the US Geological Survey so that scientists can look it up if the bird is ever found again.
After Ian explained a little bit about his research on Tree Swallows, we went out to some active nest boxes on the preserve to see if we could band, measure, and learn about Tree Swallows and Bluebirds that use the boxes.
At the first nest box we visited, we found a nest of Tree Swallows with three fully feathered young. They were old enough and big enough to band. We got to hold the birds, which doesn’t hurt them, band them, weigh them, and measure their wings. Believe it or not, they weigh more than their parents at this stage! Their wings were only about half as long as an adult Tree Swallow though.
After we banded the nestlings, we set up a little trap to catch one of the parents as they came back to the nest to deliver food to the young. In less than a minute, it worked! The adult still had the food in its bill when we examined it, which was really neat to see what the babies were eating. We then banded it, measured its wing length, and weighed it. After releasing it, it went back to the box to check on the family.
After all of this banding, we visited a Bluebird nest which had four eggs. Since they were still in the incubation phase, we did not trap the adult for banding, because they might abandon the nest.
Finally, on our last box, we found a Tree Swallow nest that had tiny little young that were only a few days old…too young for banding. We also didn’t trap the adults since their naked young would get cold quickly, so we examined the young nestlings and quickly left the area.
None of these activities hurt the birds, and now we have a record of the banded ones. Next year, we will look to see if they come back to the area. If someone else at a banding station finds one of them on their migration or wintering grounds, we will find out where they went.
In all, it was a great experience and a treat to learn some real science, and see these creatures up close. Thanks Ian!