Citizen science in my backyard!

Gray-headed catbird DK7A8986© Maria de Bruyn resIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged – not for lack of ideas and photos but due to a dearth of time and energy that was absorbed by multiple troubles with a few cool happenings in between. But now I’m back with some new observations about the beauty and happenings of interest in my natural world and I hope to share some wildlife sightings on a regular basis again.

One activity that I have managed to fit in amid the other goings-on was enrollment in two new (for me) citizen science projects for the Smithsonian Institute. I’m participating in an eMammal project run by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science and in a multi-year observational study of some common birds. The mammal project is time-limited, so I will report on that in about a month’s time.

Northern mockingbird DK7A8859©Maria de BruynThe bird project will involve tracking visits to my yard by banded birds for several years to come. The target species include American robins (Turdus migratorius), Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis), Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus), house wrens (Troglodytes aedon), gray-headed catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) and Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos, at the right), all of which come to my yard. Song sparrows are the 8th target species but I haven’t seen them at my house. However, I discovered that there is a great crested flycatcher in my trees, although I’ve never seen him (or her) either, so who knows if one will come in the future? In any case, the target birds can live from about 6-10 years on average, so I’ll have an ongoing activity for as long as my eyesight remains reasonable!

bird banding IMG_3291© Maria de Bruyn resmist net IMG_3290© Maria de Bruyn

So how does the bird banding proceed? We (the bird bander and I) set up one 12-foot and one 6-foot mist net in two parts of the yard, after the bander laid out her equipment for the banding process. Within a very short time, we caught three birds in the large net! The first was a gray-headed catbird that I recognized (photo above), because he had molted all his tail feathers at once and looks a bit odd with no tail. This bird, whom I have named Corey, has been the most vocal catbird at my feeders and he was extremely vocal about having been caught as well.

gray-headed catbird IMG_3294© Maria de Bruyn bird banding IMG_3295© Maria de Bruyn

After being disentangled – very carefully – from the net, he was put in a bag while the bander got the other two birds out of the net. Corey was measured, weighed, and banded with a combination of aluminum and colored bands. Sex was determined (I now know he is a he!) and then he was let go.

gray-headed catbird IMG_3301© Maria de Bruyn bird banding IMG_3304© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern cardinal IMG_3311© Maria de Bruyn resBird 2 was a beautiful male Northern cardinal, who appeared to have good fat reserves. He was a bit vocal and bit the bander to show his displeasure at the treatment he was receiving.

Bird 3 was a male American robin. Sex was determined partly by looking at the cloacal region (outside breeding season, other markers besides brood patches and this area are examined). If a bander is unsure of the sex, this is also marked on the data sheet. The robin was more sedate during handling than his predecessors.

 

American robin IMG_3314 © Maria de Bruyn resAmerican robin IMG_3315© Maria de Bruyn res

The house wrens had been calling loudly during the banding and flitted about in the trees and to the feeders,but they always flew just above the nets and were not caught. A male Carolina wren with a nice eye stripe did not escape.

house wren DK7A4794© Maria de Bruyn Carolina wren IMG_3316© Maria de Bruyn

American crow IMG_3359© Maria de BruynThe chickadees and Northern mockingbird flew about but did not really come too close to the nets. Non-target species were at or near the feeders, too, such as courting bluejays, an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos, right) who came to eat jelly and take some apple to his mate, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches, a house finch, Eastern towhees and a male cowbird.

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_3344© Maria de Bruyn resOther non-target birds flew into the large mist net, however, such as a brown thrasher, a tufted titmouse, a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus, right), a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), a female common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas, below) and a common grackle. I’d not seen these birds up so close before, so that was really a nice experience.

Common yellowthroat IMG_3339© Maria de Bruyn res

 

bird banding IMG_3340© Maria de Bruyn resTo get more target species, a loudspeaker that played bird calls and some model birds were placed in the grass by the largest net. Eventually, two more catbirds were caught – with other catbirds in a nearby tree puffing themselves up to show their shared distress. These were the first catbirds banded for the project so far, so that was a nice way to end the exercise.

Cope's tree frog IMG_3293© Maria de Bruyn resA tour of the yard to see if there were any nests that could be followed for the Nest Watch project revealed a couple wren nests in boxes that were built up so high it was not possible to see if they had eggs in them. The bluebirds’ nest has five eggs that I will follow through fledging (hopefully); a catbird nest is too high up for me to see how many eggs she is sitting on but I will watch for her fledglings, too. And a Cope’s tree frog (Hyla chrysoscelis) had taken up residence in the nest box that the downy woodpecker uses to rest at night. The wrens had begun building a nest in that box last night and the frog was gone this afternoon.

The banding took place yesterday in the morning and in the afternoon, the banded birds had not returned. I wonder how long it will take most of these individuals to come again. Corey already returned this afternoon, instantly recognizable not only because of his very short tail feathers growing in but because of the red and silver bands on his little legs. I was so glad to see he was none the worse for wear!

7 thoughts on “Citizen science in my backyard!

  1. Welcome back Maria, I missed your blogs. The projects sound great. Congratulations on getting enrolled. What will the Smithsonian do with the data collected?

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    • Thank you, Phyllis! We are supposed to track the appearance of the banded birds for several years to come; these data then go into a large data set that the Smithsonian is using to monitor the presence and movement of certain species over time. I am also monitoring a bluebird nest in the yard as they keep track of nesting successes and failures.

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  2. Pingback: The banded birds are back! | My beautiful world

  3. Thanks for your comment, navasolanature! I do think the citizen science projects are important and make good contributions to furthering our understanding of wildlife. There is a project that takes place once yearly that is worldwide – the Great Backyard Bird Count and you could participate in that: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

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