Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

A Bird in Hand

Press Release, April 5, 2012

A Bird in Hand

 by Cathy Keddy, MVFN Program Chair

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Trends in Fauna and Flora, continues April 19 with the final presentation, ‘A Bird in the Hand.’ You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations.

 

Above left: an identification band being attached to the leg of a Yellow Warbler;  Right: a  Scarlet Tanager is examined during the banding process (photos by Lesley Howes).

For Canadian Wildlife Service biologist, Lesley Howes—speaker at MVFN’s April lecture, a bird in the hand is worth many in the bush for when the bird is in your hand, you can band it. Banding involves affixing a plastic or metal identification tag to either the wing or leg of the bird. Appropriate, standard banding techniques have been established to protect the health of both birds and the banders. Leslie will share her knowledge of this art based on more than 20 years of experience banding humming birds to seabirds to raptors.

Banding birds is one of the most useful techniques in the research and monitoring of migratory bird populations. Bird banding and subsequent re-finding of banded individuals enables ornithologists to study many aspects of a bird’s life including migration, longevity, mortality, territoriality, and feeding behaviour. Information from banding studies also contributes to population studies, the establishment of waterfowl hunting regulations, protection of endangered species, and assessment of the effects of environmental contaminants.

In North America tagging birds for scientific study began in 1803 when John James Audubon tied silver threads onto the legs of young Eastern Phoebes. In Canada, Ernest Thompson Seton studied Snow Buntings in Manitoba in 1882 by marking them with ink. Today, bird banding programs have been established around the world and co-operation among sponsoring agencies provides a wealth of information about global geographic bird patterns and population trends. More than 66 million birds have been banded in North America since 1908. Approximately 900 banders place bands and markers on over 300,000 migratory birds each year in Canada. Mallards are the most commonly marked bird with over 7 million marked in North America since 1908.

Can you believe it? Banding studies of Arctic Terns and Manx Shearwater (a medium-sized seabird) have shown incredible migration feats. A three-month-old Arctic Tern chick banded in Britain in the summer of 1982, reached Australia that October— a sea journey of over 22,000 km in just a few months. Through banding, it has been found that Manx Shearwaters migrate between the nothern Europe and South America, a distance of over 10,000km. Given that they can live to be at least 50 yrs, this means they travel more than one million km during migration over their lifetime in addition to their day-to-day flights. One banded bird, in particular, was calculated to have flown over 8 million during its life time, outliving its ornithological tracker. Without banding, we would not have known.

Founded in 1982 by the Ottawa Banding Group, our nearest bird banding station is the Innis Point Bird Observatory located on Department of National Defense property along the Ottawa River, near Shirley’s Bay. Migration monitoring and other research projects here include Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS), Breeding Bird Census, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird and Purple Martin research, and Snow Bunting banding in winter. There are on-site facilities for long-term volunteers. Interested? Ask Lesley about opportunities.

Refresh your identification skills and try your hand at aging and sexing birds with the study skins that Lesley brings to her MVFN presentation, ‘A Bird in the Hand,’ at 7:30 pm on Thursday April 19 at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome. Non-members $5. Refreshments provided. For more information, contact MVFN Program Chair, Cathy Keddy (613-257-3089).

_______________________________________________________________________________________________