Bird Banding: Learning From Our Avian Neighbors

9:09 AM, Sep 10, 2012   |    comments
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Bird banding is a method used to study the habits of wild birds.

Much can be discovered of avian life through this practice. Migration routes, longevity, mortality rates and population are just a few things that can be learned through this technique.

The process involves attaching a small ring to a bird's leg that contains detailed information about each individual.

Ross Kenzie is a local Purple Martin enthusiast who has been raising and banding the birds for many years, and has found that in addition to their aesthetic qualities, the Martin's feeding habits provide other benefits too.

"When you have them, they're fun to have around, they're fun to watch and so and so forth," says Kenzie. "But you're also learning because of what they eat, it's very interesting in terms of just not having a lot of bugs around."

Every summer, the Martins flock to Kenzie's land, attracted in part by the unusual gourd shaped nests that are scattered throughout the property. Like everything else, the nests have evolved over the years. Originally, they were made from real gourds, and eventually changed along with technology.

"The gourds became plastic," says Kenzie. "Then they got sort of a screw on top so you can look in them. Now, for example you can buy a camera to put in the gourd, and actually watch the eggs hatch!"

It's pretty obvious that the birds feel comfortable in their new homes...each year they produce hundreds of chicks, which are then banded by licensed bird banders.

"From the time they hatch, you want to band them about two weeks later," says Kenzie. "Because by that time they're starting to get feathers and so on, and by three and a half weeks, some will fly."

Rich Wells is a licensed Master Bander. "It's pretty straightforward, we take them out and put them in a plastic pail. The pails are numbered so we can put them back in the nest we removed them from, band the birds and then put them back in there."

By September all of the birds are moving out of town, stopping first in Pennsylvania before making their epic migration to the south.

"There's an abundant fly hatch there in Presque Isle, and these Martins will fatten up down there," says Wells. "From there they head south, and eventually they wind up in Brazil."

But the Martins will return again in the spring, to once again provide a rich nature experience for everyone who takes part.

Kenzie is very generous in opening his land and sharing that experience. "Anybody who has young kids, I tell them when I'm tell them when I'm going to band, and they come and come and come, and the little kids will hold them in their hands, and get their pictures taken...it's just amazing!"

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