Tag Archives: bird banding

Backyard Birding: Inspire Kids to be Birders with the Help of Neighborhood Nestwatch

This year we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty that was signed on Aug. 16, 1916. This  Migratory Bird Treaty, and three others that followed, form the cornerstones of our efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders.

In celebration of the centennial, we are sharing a series of Backyard Birding blogs, written by USFWS volunteer and enthusiastic birder, Lee Halasz. Celebrating the centennial of the first treaty allows us to bring together those who have contributed to its success, and to galvanize efforts to protect migratory birds for generations to come.

song sparrow -- March Neighborhood Nestwatch

Song sparrow (Credit: Stephanie L. Clymer)

By Lee Halasz

Lee Halasz is a native of Australia and is a former conservation professional with the Queensland State Government. He and his family now reside in western Massachusetts, and he volunteered his time with us in 2015. This spring, we feature a series of bird stories Lee wrote to celebrate #birdyear. 

Have you ever wanted to catch and tag birds right in your own backyard? With the help of the Smithsonian Institution?

That’s exactly what my daughter and I did, and it was a fantastic experience.

One morning a couple of springs ago, my then six-year-old daughter was feeling like she might be getting sick and, since it was the end of a long school year, I let her stay home.

Coincidentally, that day I was having a visit from the Springfield chapter of Neighborhood Nestwatch, a citizen science program run by the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Forest Service. The program investigates the survival of birds and their nesting success in people’s yards by involving citizens in collecting information about birds. Through this involvement people gain a greater appreciation and understanding of their local birds.

My daughter had previously shown a minor interest in birds so I was curious to see what she would think of this experience.

Helping Catch – and Release – Some Backyard Birds

After some quick introductions, the staff got to work with setting up ‘mist nets’ made of almost-invisible fine black mesh. If a bird flies into the net, it falls into a ‘pouch’ in the net, where it can safely and easily be picked up and handled. The calls of several target bird species, including black-capped chickadee, northern cardinal and song sparrow, were played nearby in the hope of luring in local individuals of those species.

Mist net -- March Neighborhood Nestwatch

Mist net (Credit: Stephanie L. Clymer)

 

We were soon catching birds, and it was amazing to be able to see them up close and in detail. Individuals of the target species had colored bands placed on their legs, to allow them to be recognized by me (and others) in the future, just through casual observation rather than having to recapture them.

I knew of a few nests in our yard, and the staff set up data sheets for me to continue observing and recording those nests, and any I others I found.

nest -- March Neighborhood Nestwatch

Nest (Credit: Stephanie L. Clymer)

Inspiring Local Bird Conservation

My daughter was taken under the wing (so to speak) by one of the staff, who took her around checking the nets and talking to her about birds. She was even able to release several birds, including a hummingbird, by having them placed on their backs in her hand.

Well, my daughter was inspired. Afterwards she wanted her own bird field guide, and in the following weeks she would look up any birds she saw. The ultimate experience came one day when I found a dead black-billed cuckoo. I showed it to her and was about to bury it when she shouted, “It has a band!” We contacted the U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory with the number on the band, and were told it was caught just two weeks earlier on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, apparently a very curious migration pattern.

During the breeding season our local pair of cardinals (both banded during the visit) had five nests. While two nests failed (the eggs didn’t hatch), the mid-spring nest fledged three chicks, and two later nests each fledged a single chick.

The visit was a fantastic morning immersed in birds. I have been able to confirm that many of the banded birds survived into the next year and beyond, but it appears the male cardinal did not. There is a new male flying around with the banded female though…maybe more nests will be in our future.

cardinal -- March Neighborhood Nestwatch

Male Northern Cardinal (Credit: Stephanie L. Clymer)

How To Get Involved in the Neighborhood Nestwatch

If you love birding and have ever observed a bird nest in your own backyard, you can help scientists in their effort to understand how well backyard birds are doing. Visit the program’s website to find out how you can get involved – early spring is the perfect time to register and start looking for nests.

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI/MigratoryBirds/Research/Neighborhood_Nestwatch/default.cfm

Join us next week for another Backyard Birding post featuring the American Woodcock!

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches high school girls about bird conservation techniquest at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working on conservation of neotropical migrant bird populations for 20 years. Several times a year, Dettmers and Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist, teach youth and adults about wildlife techniques to conserve bird populations. Last month, they led nine girls on an hour-long workshop teaching avian wildlife conservation skills including “mist-netting” birds to capture and band them, in support of research and monitoring efforts.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute's Young Women in Science program.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute’s Young Women in Science program. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

The ninth through eleventh graders were attending a week-long science camp themed “Young Women in Science” through Flying Cloud Institute. The students came from schools in Massachusetts and New York including: Great Barrington (Monument Mountain Regional High School), Sheffield (Mount Everett Regional High School), Lee (Lee Middle and High School), Pittsfield (Miss Hall’s, a private school)and one from Hawthorne Valley, a private Waldorf school in Hillsdale, New York. Here are Dettmers’ field notes from the training experience:

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches young high school students avian conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge this past summer.

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pictured far right), teaches young high school students about bird conservation techniques at Conte Refuge this past summer. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

On a sunny summer day at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort River in Hadley, Massachusetts, myself and fellow wildlife biologist Mitch Hartley led nine girls from the Flying Cloud Institute under instructor Susan Cooper into the 260 acres of grasslands and forest of a former dairy farm. Our goal was to introduce these curious students to the skills of safely capturing birds to record data that will be used later to understand bird movements, survival rates, and life histories. Fortunately, we were able to lure and capture two birds in the nets by playing a series of bird calls by portable speaker nearby — which attracted a mature female yellow warbler and black-capped chickadee, common species native to the area. We then showed the girls how to measure and record necessary data on each bird, attaching bands to their legs, and allowed the students to release them back into their natural habitat.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers shows bird age identification techniques to high school girls from the Flying Cloud Institute at Conte Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers demonstrates bird monitoring techniques to high school girls at Conte Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Within the Service, the Migratory Bird Program works to track the status of migratory birds, identify species in need of conservation attention, and coordinate actions to protect and restore those species.  Banding and other monitoring techniques are important tools for understanding the population trends and status of migratory birds.  It is always valuable to share this part of our work with young biologists so that they can see, first-hand, what this work entails and have opportunities for direct interaction with some of the wildlife we strive to conserve for the benefit of the American people.  Making those connections is an important part of what we do, and we are always looking for opportunities to provide demonstrations or talk about what we do, whether it be talking to early elementary school groups about how birds build nests and why robins eat worms, to banding demonstrations such as with this high school group, or teaching bird monitoring techniques as part of college courses.  Reaching out to these different groups of young people to share the work we do and why we do it helps the next generation to understand that there are science-based career options in wildlife biology and conservation.

It’s exciting to share the field of wildlife biology with young minds, especially curious high school girls, showing them the tools we as biologists use for bird conservation such as mist netting, banding, taking measurements, and monitoring.  It’s rewarding to see the interest and enthusiasm they show when we take them into the field, handle equipment like mist nests, and give them an opportunity to hold a live bird.  It is a great experience for all of us.  – Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Neighborhood Nestwatch: Citizen Science in Action

Measuring a chickadee captured in a mist net in my neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Beth.

Measuring a chickadee captured in a mist net in my neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Beth.

Today we are hearing from guest blogger Beth Goldstein who participated in Neighborhood Nestwatch with her family.

Today we are hearing from guest blogger Beth Goldstein who participated in Neighborhood Nestwatch with her family. Photo courtesy of Beth.

Three years ago, as I was climbing the stairs in my office building, something caught my eye on the staircase bulletin board. It was a flier inviting volunteers to enroll in Neighborhood Nestwatch, a citizen-science program that offers opportunities to be a biologist in your own backyard. It was late spring, the school year was winding down and I was looking for something fun to do with the kids over the summer.

Soon I was contacted to schedule a date for the crew to survey birds at my house. I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew what they were getting into. I live just a couple blocks away from downtown Northampton, Massachusetts. Both my front and back yards are tiny with one large silver maple and a half-dead red bud tree. But I wanted – needed – something fun and preferably educational for my kids to do that summer, so I told them to come on down!

At 7 a.m. sharp on the appointed day, the crew arrived at my house. They spent the first hour walking around my neighborhood listening for and recording bird songs. Afterwards they got down to the difficult task of setting up mist nets in an urban neighborhood. By this time the kids had straggled out of bed and were watching the crew navigate their way through closely spaced shrubs, trees and impervious surfaces to erect the nets. Once the nets were erected, the crew set up audio recordings of bird songs to call in certain species. (Note: This is a great way for your kids to learn bird calls!)

Last year the crew caught a pine siskin but did not band it because it is not one of the targeted species. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Linda Tanner.

Last year the crew caught a pine siskin but did not band it because it is not one of the targeted species. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Linda Tanner.

For the next several hours, we hung out on our front porch listening to recorded bird songs, watching birds fly around the nets, and talking about Neighborhood Nestwatch. The project recruits volunteers who work with scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to find and monitor bird nests and record and report their observations. Scientists are especially interested in comparing nest success in urban, suburban and rural backyards. Biologists have been marking target bird species with a unique combination of colored plastic leg bands so that individual birds can be identified. Participants keep a watchful eye out throughout the year to identify “their” birds and report their sightings either on paper or electronically.

Banded chickadee

Banded chickadee. Photo courtesy of Beth.

That first year we did not catch any birds, and last year the crew caught a pine siskin but did not band it because it is not one of their target species. This year we caught a young chickadee. After documenting the bird’s weight and wing length, it was banded. The other highlight of this year’s visit was when the crew noticed an abundance of birds in my neighbor’s yard. They asked my neighbor if they could set up a net in her backyard. She loved the idea of participating in the program and the crew was excited about having another volunteer in the neighborhood.

A couple months after the Nestwatch crew visited us this year, I heard a story on New England Public Radio about the program. I was thrilled to hear it was getting increased local attention. Participating in the program is a great way to learn about birds and an ideal summer project for kids!