Bird banding can be described as placing a metal or plastic ring, that has its own unique number, around a bird's leg . There are many important reasons for doing this.
First, a lot of information is gained while looking closely at the bird caught. Such as, further ways to identify the bird, different diseases they can catch, molting patterns, and so on. However, bird banding is most helpful when the bird caught is already banded.
By looking at previous records of the bird, migration flyways can be tracked, bird ranges can be defined, the lifespan of different bird species can be estimated, and their behavior can be recorded. All of this information is important to further understand the characteristics of individual bird species and the kind of habitats they need for survival.
Bird banding requires certification and is not as easy as it might seem. Birds get shocked very easily and can die if not handled gently and properly while holding and banding.
Recently I got a chance to observe the process of this practice at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center.
There were multiple nets set up that were very thin and consisted of several pockets. Dozens of birds throughout the day flew into the unseen nets and fell into these pockets. Some birds were simply lifted out, while others (mainly one frantic chickadee) got all tangled up.
Once the birds were free from the net they were put in cloth, drawstring bags and hung on a stand in the order they were caught in.
Before anything, the bird is identified. Even for experienced birders, this can be really difficult. Most of the birds caught were common and identified without a second thought. One trickier bird, however, was misidentified at first. A lot of young birds are brown in color and this one was no exception. It was assumed to be a House finch until the tiniest speck of blue was found on its wing. After this discovery, it was assumed to be a young Indigo bunting. It’s description was looked up in a bird identification book before confirming.
There was a criteria list by which each bird was analyzed. Every bird was weighed in the bag and then the weight of the bag was subtracted. One young Black-capped chickadee weighed only 9 grams and another bird that had been previously banded had lost a gram, which is a lot for their size.
The length of their wing is measured and each bird is checked for molting, amount of fat, and disease. Some of the American goldfinches had conjunctivitis, which is commonly known to us as pink eye. Because of this, the bags they were in were set aside to be thoroughly cleaned, as were the bird feeders at Sagawau (to prevent spreading).
Each bird has a size band that fits their leg and a special plier is used to close it. When everything was written down, and the band was securely on, they were released. Those who had gathered to watch were allowed to release the birds under the supervision of the certified bird bander who was leading the event. We were taught to simply take our top hand off the bird and wait for it to fly. If it didn’t fly right away we were to stroke it gently.
Apparently someone on a previous day gave a bird a slight toss, and the bird, surprised, hit the sidewalk. It is for reasons like this that there are specific ways to handle birds. They were so delicate that the small birds felt like weightless fluffs in my hands. Thankfully, the injuries usually aren't that serious but Sagawau takes care of the birds that get injured until they can be released.
From this experience I’ve learned how complex each bird is and have grown a deeper appreciation for them. Every bird was so uniquely different in their behavior and markings that I couldn’t help but be amazed.
Though there are no bird banding events coming up, there are a lot of bird watching events in our forest preserves. If you are interested in continuing to learn about birds I suggest going to these events and keeping a lookout for bird banding events in the future.
The Cook County Forest Preserve website: http://fpdcc.com