Everyone who commits to volunteering with a bird banding station loves birds. As a new observer, I count those who untangle birds at the mist net high on my list of volunteers who possess perseverence and patience.
Several times as I watched this process, I thought, by now I would have felt something ken to panic and asked someone to rescue both me and the bird. Steady nerves and focus are among the attributes of these workers. It also helps to know a few handy tips like making sure you are on the bird's entry side of the net. Not so easy as it sounds, but a belly free of netting is one of the clues that helps orient workers.
Once the bird is free from the netting, in this case two juvenile Northern mockingbirds, it is placed in a cloth bag that is marked with a clothes pin containing the number of the net in which it was captured. Each net, twelve in all, is documented with location and habitat type.
Below, the examiner is measuring the juvenile mockingbird's leg for band size.
A special plier is used to close the band around the juvenile's leg leaving room for movement.
To help with aging the examiner checks the wing feathers for molting, wear and color.
Even the skull is checked for aging. Ossification or the development of bone tissue helps the examiner determine age by both color and feel. Immature bird skulls have a soft spot similar to that of human infants which closes and hardens with maturity. The skin appears more pinkish in younger birds, whiter as they mature.
Banding station examiners are bird sleuths in every respect of the word, looking for clues, examining details, checking references and using their best judgement to determine the age, sex and health of each bird. So why all this effort?
The data collected at this banding station goes to two places, the USGS Patuxent Banding Lab in Maryland, the repository for banding data in the USA, and The Institute for Bird Populations' MAPS Program (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) in Point Reyes Station, CA. The data is then used to understand how bird populations are changing over time.
Our environment is changing. Habitat is being lost and degraded. The Institute for Bird Populations says it best: "Information is the key to solving many of our environmental problems. Information empowers scientists to determine the causes and effects of environmental changes. It empowers governments and businesses to understand how economic and ecological factors together cause environmental problems. Finally, information helps people act responsibily to promote a healthy environment."
I, for one, am grateful for these bird lovers we call "banders" and their contribution to the future of our planet.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #48 at Birdfreak.com to promote the conservation of our world's birds.