Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A bird's eye view of mist netting and bird banding.

I'm sorry, I just can't resist a good pun!

Last week on April 1, 2013, my Wildlife Field Techniques class (SUNY Cobleskill) traveled to our professor's house for our lab. His property is really, really neat. It's totally set up and managed for his student's use. He has beautiful trails, a campfire area, and multiple different types of wildlife management sampling or survey methods set up (hair snares, vegetation plots, etc).

SUNY Cobleskill Fish and Wildlife Technician,
Krysten Zummo (right), is explaining to
students how to correctly hang the mist net.
He also keeps the wild birds well fed through the winter with multiple bird feeders. Because of this, he can be fairly confident that if he sets up a mist net near his feeders, he will be able to catch birds and lead a successful lab.

A mist net is a very fine, light net that is very hard to see, and easy to get tangled in. For birds and anything else that comes into contact with it. There are different weights and gauges for different types of birds, but I've only ever experienced mist netting little Passerines, or song birds. If a larger bird than say a Blue Jay flew into the net, it would more than likely bounce off and be on it's way.

Here's a picture of our net setup. It's hard to see, but just in front of and to the left of the front door are the inside poles for the 2 nets. They each extend out. In the picture below I've pointed out the poles and shaded in the nets so they're easier to see.
Mist net set up.

Even though the weather may look lovely in the pictures, it quickly turned nasty. A good bird bander, with good ethics, will not band in inclement weather. These birds are so small and delicate, if their feathers get disheveled or wet, they will likely get hypothermic. Especially because the temps were only around 50*F.

Before the weather turned on us though, we did get several birds. One of which, I was given the opportunity of extracting the bird from the net.

We hid behind our professor's garage, out of sight of the nets. Every few minutes though, we'd peek around to see if a bird got snagged. Two birds at once flew into the net- a Black-capped Chickadee and another bird. Unidentified at first from a distance, but that's the one I was directed to unravel.

Black-capped Chickadee being removed from the mist net.
Here I am, working at removing a Yellow-rumped Warbler from the net. This was my first time removing a bird, so I was a little nervous. But I was able to remove her quickly and gently.
Photo credit: Tyler Barriere

Photo credit: Tyler Barriere

A "second year" female Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Photo credit: Tyler Barriere
Unfortunately, right after this picture was taken, this little warbler got a leg free from my grip. Instead of trying to fight her and accidentally hurt her, I just loosened my grip and let her go. Only a few of us got to see her, and we didn't get to put a band on her...but at least we got pictures!

I'm in an ornithology class right now, and I'm cramming tons of birds into my head. I was impressed with myself for immediately being able to ID this bird correctly, even though it's not a male in his full breeding plumage. Those are usually the easiest to ID :) But I ID'ed her, and then asked for confirmation from Krysten, our technician, and a recent graduate from Cobleskill. She agreed.

I've been asked recently "why are you banding birds?". To those who don't know the inside details, it can appear stressful and unnecessary to submit these birds to getting tangled, handled, and banded. Instead of stumbling through an explanation, I am going to include a passage from the United States Geological Survey, which is the governing federal agency over the practice of bird banding.

"Bird banding data are useful in both research and management projects. Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth."

Working with wild animals is in my professional future. I support the efforts being made to learn all we can about the animals that make our country "home". I hold respect for the animals very high, and always strive to maintain a low voice, and to be cognizant of my movements. I admit, I get a little huffy when research is questioned, and no alternative means of data collection is suggested. I know, 90% of wildlife management is people management, and I need to be prepared for a lifetime of being questioned, doubted, and argued with by many of the general public. But, when someone merely says "banding is mean, why are you doing that?" or "can't you just do something else instead of catching them?"....  No. :)

Anyway, I love watching bird banding and participating in anyway. Even if it's just watching, and not actually handling the birds. Here are a few more pictures to end.

A Common Redpoll

Olivia and Krysten working on getting a Common Redpoll out of the net.

One of the "ladder-backed" woodpeckers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker! Beautiful bird!


  1. Looks like a great experience for you all. I like how you showed us readers the nets -- they are so hard to see from a distance.

  2. I'm surprised that the USGS is the governing body on bird banding...cool fact!


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