I got back from our first bout of field work yesterday, and I can say that if things keep going the way they did, we’re going to be banding a lot of juncos this year. That is excellent: the more we band, the more we can identify individually by sight, allowing us to observe the behavior of each. It’s much more informative to be able to say “KARL chased RRAY” than “one junco chased another junco”. Too, when we band them we also take measurements and pictures, so we can relate their behavior to things like condition and size.
One of the things you notice quickly when handling lots of birds is how different they all are. Not only do they differ in things like markings and leg size, but each responds to being handled differently: some are stoic; some flutter; some are calm except when their legs are handled; some chip softly; some bite.
Right now all I know about these birds is their capture location and the measurements I took, but as the season wears on, I’ll know the extent of their territories, the sound of their song, and—if they and I are lucky—the identity of their mates and the numbers of their chicks.
I’m only back for a few days; I’ll spend much more of the next several months in the field than at home. The juncos don’t stop doing things, and I have to be there to observe them! I’ll try to schedule blog posts for when I’m gone, but if there’s a gap in posting, you’ll know why: I’m in the woods watching juncos.
P.S. Keep an eye on the “Juncos banded (2013)” counter on the right side of the blog home page; I’ll update that count every time I get back, so you’ll know just how many juncos we can now individually identify.
Wow: 34 birds! Congratulations! Will you run out of band color combinations?
Thanks! If we run out of band combos then we’ll be doing REALLY well. We have 12 colors plus aluminum, and they can be in any order, the only restriction being that each bird has to have one aluminum band. That gives us something like thousands of possible unique combinations.
However, we might run out of dissimilar combinations: I try to have the combos of birds at the same site differ by more than one band, to make IDing them easier. For example, I’d prefer not to have EARL and MARL at the same site. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to start doing that.
Interesting. What sort of population densities do these birds have in the area or is that what you’re trying to determine?
That’s part of what I’m trying to figure out, and it definitely varies among our sites. It’s safe to say “quite dense,” though – our sites are not THAT big, and we see a lot of birds. Juncos are very successful little guys.
Are you going back to some of the same areas and looking for the birds you banded last year? It would be interesting to know their survival rate over the winter.
Yep! In fact we resighted one junco from last year already. But it’s hard to know if the juncos we don’t see have died, or have simply decided to take a territory somewhere else.