Connecting you with nature
I recently visited Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania where I took part in a 4-day, field-based, raptor trapping and banding course taught by Gene Jacobs of Linwood Springs Research Station. Included with this post are a few images from the course, including several wild raptors that were banded and released. The Fall raptor migration is underway. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and surrounding areas are located along a major raptor migration route, making it a perfect location to capture and band raptors. Banding requires capturing a bird, collecting measurements, banding it, and releasing it unharmed. All banding in the United States is supervised by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL). CAPTURING AND BANDING CAN BE PERFORMED LEGALLY ONLY WITH FEDERAL AND STATE PERMITS. The BBL distributes uniquely-coded bands to licensed banders, collects reports on banded birds, and shares that information with the banders, researchers, and those who report the band. Every band placed on a bird is reported to the BBL, along with the bird’s species, age, sex, and other measurements, as well as date, time, location, and how the bird was caught.
So, why band birds? Birds are good indicators of the health of our environment. The status and trends of bird populations are critical for identifying and understanding many ecological issues and for developing effective science, management and conservation practices. Bird banding supports studies of bird dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life span and survival rate, reproductive success, and population dynamics. The importance of following and monitoring bird populations was emphasized in a study published in the journal Science last week that reported an alarming decline in many common birds. The study found that since 1970, North America has lost more than 2.9 billion birds. According to a summary of the study in Smithsonian Magazine:
“In less than half a century, the avian population of the continent has declined by some 29 percent, or more than one in four birds. …Birds are considered indicator species, or animals used to infer the health of an entire ecosystem. They are worldwide “canaries in the coal mine,” which refers to the 20th-century practice of carrying caged birds into mines to detect toxic gases before humans suffer harmful effects… The new study used nearly 50 years of monitoring data collected largely by bird watchers and citizen scientists. These efforts include the North American Breeding Bird Survey coordinated by the United States Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, and the International Shorebird Survey. The team then cross-referenced bird count data with radar data from 143 weather satellites that have been used to track migrating birds at night for the last decade.”
There is good news in this study! Not all species are in decline. Wetland birds were up 13 percent; waterfowl—a subset of wetland birds—are up 56 percent from 1970s numbers; and raptors, including eagles and hawks, and game birds like turkeys and grouse, gained 250 million individuals since 1970. Raptors in particular have recovered from severe losses since the government banned the pesticide DDT. In addition, dedicated conservation efforts including habitat protection, smart land use, public education, and dedicated funding to support species protection are also major factors that support secure raptor populations.
Are you bird lover and watcher? Keep those binoculars and zoom lenses focused while you’re out and about because you may come across a banded bird. Banded birds can easily be reported on-line to the BBL. Not long ago, I came across a banded Trumpeter Swan in northern Ohio which I reported to the BBL (see my earlier blog post). Shortly after reporting the band, I received a certificate and learned that the swan was a 12-year-old female. She was banded before she learned to fly and in a location on Lake Erie about 20 miles from where I took from my photo. Trumpeter swans can live 20-30 years. She was on her way to a long swan life!