For The Birds

Some students were really in the catbird seat on Wednesday.

Their enviable position near mist nets at Chapman State Park gave them up-close looks at several song birds and the banding process.

The students were part of the three-day Discover E program.

Don Watts, a member of the Eastern Bird Banding Association, set up the mist netting, gave a quick lesson on the use of binoculars and helped the students navigate the field guide: Birds of North America.

“Bird banding is the study to see how long they live and where they go,” Watts said. “Birds are a barometer of the environment.”

Birds are sensitive to changes. Watts cited the example of miners who would carry a bird with them to give them advance warning if they encountered poisonous air. If the bird died, the miners had limited time to get out.

If banding events are held in the same location at the same time of year on an ongoing basis, scientists can gather population data and evaluate trends.

“Comparative data might indicate a declining population,” Watts said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to detect any harmful changes.”

In the three-hour program, six birds found their way into the netting.

The specimens included three song sparrows, a catbird, a cedar waxwing and an American redstart warbler.

All were carefully removed from the netting. Watts recorded the age and sex of each bird, if he could determine it, and affixed a tiny band.

The song birds included one adult and two juveniles of indeterminate sex. The cedar waxwing was an adult male. The catbird was a juvenile of unknown sex. The redstart was an after-hatch-year male, meaning it did not hatch this year.

The birds were then released. Only five were banded – one was released prior to banding. Watts allowed children to release the birds.

The banding on Wednesday was not a scientific arrangement. Although Watts kept notes and made sure the banding was, “by the book”, the event was intended to introduce the students to bird banding.

Environment Education Specialist Jen Moore said the students examined feathers and created journals as part of their birding experience. Observations Wednesday afternoon would help them fill in some of the spaces in those journals. Thursday’s activities include more observation and the dissection of owl pellets – regurgitation.

“They’ll be able to see what the owl ate,” she said. “There’s all kinds of bones in there.”