July 23, 2011

A Bird in the Hand

Banding station and coffee!
On Monday this week, I (Joel) got up at 3:45 a.m. This is not something I particularly like to do, but if you want to volunteer to band birds, sleep deprivation just comes with the territory. I slipped out of the house at 4:00, drove to the banding site, and in the pre-dawn shadows, fellow volunteers Peter, Jen and I prepped the site for a morning of banding.

Banff's banding station is located along the Bow Valley Parkway, and volunteers like me have been collecting data there since 1999. Six times a summer, from mid June until early August, a series of nets are set up for six hours at the site. Every half hour, the nets are checked, and we gently release the birds from the mesh and bring them over to our master bander, Greg, who identifies, weighs, sexes, and ages our feathered friends. Greg fits each bird with a numbered metal band, and then releases it.

Greg banding a warbling vireo

So why go through all the trouble? Well, for one, if you love birds, it's great chance to see them up close. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as the expression goes, and I believe it. On Monday, we caught a hummingbird, and it's bill was dusted with pollen from the flowers it had been visiting. Wow!

It's also great to watch the sun rise on the peaks, and hear the dawn chorus of birds singing.
Northern waterthrush

But mostly, I like to bird band knowing that it's part of a long-term continent-wide science project that monitors the health of bird populations. It's one of the biggest citizen science projects going on in Canada and the USA.

If you want to know more, check out the website for MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship), and you might find you want to hold a bird in the hand as well.