Last year, I became a Nest Watch volunteer, which involves having birds banded in your yard so that you can follow and report to researchers the birds’ presence over time as they visit and leave your yard.
In 2015, we banded six birds. If a bird is only a temporary visitor or if it died outside the yard due to disease, old age or predation, you just won’t see it again and have no idea what became of it. The American robin (Turdus migratorius) that was banded last year never returned. If the birds stick around, however, you have the enjoyment of observing birds you get to know. The three gray-headed catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) stayed around all summer and fall, and two of them – Camden and Corey – returned to my yard from winter migration a few days ago. They have been accompanied by females whom they appear to be assiduously courting.
One Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was banded last year, but Clancy only stayed a few days and then disappeared for the rest of the summer, fall and winter. He suddenly appeared yesterday – perhaps encouraged to spend time at the feeders by the other birds with bracelets.
Three days ago, a second round of banding was done and we put the colorful anklets on a total of 10 birds. They were caught in two mist nets – one near my back garden and one near the backyard feeders.
The nets had just been installed when our first visitor, a female Northern cardinal, was caught. She was not happy and when put in a bag until she could be banded, weighed, examined and measured, she did not remain still and calm. She had a little wait, however, as a female Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) flew into the other net at just about the same time, followed by her mate within seconds. As the cardinals can tolerate being in a bag better than the smaller birds, the two wrens were banded first. Alicia let the first one go and then I released the second one, who rested on my palm for a bit. He felt so nice and soft!
Forty-five minutes later, playback of a house wren’s song (Troglodytes aedon) led to the capture of a male who immediately came to investigate who was invading his territory. His mate, who was busy putting the finishing touches on a nest in a box near the mist net, didn’t go near the net.
A few birds not targeted for the study ended up tangled in a net. A white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) had beautiful vivid breeding colors on his head. A red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) was not calm like the sparrow, fluttering his wings constantly as Alicia, the bird bander, got him loose.
Next up were a male cardinal and a female American robin. Like last year, the birds were measured and weighed. Although about the same length, the weight difference between the heaviest Northern cardinal we banded (41.2 oz) and the American robin was striking (79.6oz). The robin’s fondness for worms and other dietary preferences helps account for this. When I let her go, she didn’t feel very heavy in my hand as she rested a second before flying off.
Except for birds that were molting their tail feathers, Alicia also removed the third left tail feather; this is done primarily for stable isotope analysis, which allows a researcher to estimate where the bird was when that feather was grown.
The catbirds avoided the mist nets skillfully this year. Playback of their songs drew them to the vicinity but the two pairs visiting the feeders were more interested in chasing each other away from the territory. Alicia hoped that we could get a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis); with playback we got a male and then, 45 minutes later after banding another cardinal, we got a pair of them.
Alicia blew on the birds’ undersides (forgive the blurry photo) to assess fat reserves, which are stored along the flanks and up near the furcula by the collar bone. She could also determine sex that way and thought that one chickadee might be developing an egg – hopefully, one of the females who lost a nest to predators in my yard a week ago. The last male chickadee released was out of sorts after the experience; before leaving my hand to fly off rapidly, he turned and bit me as a parting shot.
Alicia had remarked that she hoped no tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) would be caught; they are not part of the study and she said they are so feisty that their bites can be a bit painful like those of the cardinals. Unfortunately, one leaving a feeder did end up in a net and lived up to its reputation as a feisty bird. A chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), who was the last bird in a net remained fairly calm as the net was removed from its claws.
Yesterday, I spent some time watching the feeders and yard to see if all the banded birds had left. Luckily, some of them showed up and were here again today. So here are a few of “my birds” with bling – this is a truly enjoyable citizen science project. 🙂
Renee and Riley Carolina wrens