Birds in the hand again (finally!)

Today was my first day volunteering at a local bird banding station. This place is great: they have been banding birds for decades, recording population changes and individual measurements, and they care a lot about both the birds and the data.

More importantly, though:  I finally got my hands on some birds again.


Lincoln’s Sparrow, obviously delighted to be involved.

It’s been a while. I had an abbreviated field season this summer, so I haven’t held a bird since July. Since then I’ve been applying for postdocs and writing my dissertation, both of which involve a lot of sitting inside and staring at a computer screen. I need some bird time. That is, after all, the whole reason why I’m applying for postdocs and writing a dissertation: because I love these guys.


Male Ruby-crowned Kinglet showing his “crown”.

Some people do yoga, or meditate, or stand in power poses, or eat chocolate to feel good. I just need a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.


Here’s the rest of that kinglet’s body, if the previous photo concerned you: he isn’t a disembodied head, he’s just being held in bander’s grip. He’s fine.


Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrow


Another male Ruby-crowned Kinglet, with a more progressive hairstyle


Look how yellow his feet are!

As in my research, all of these birds get banded, measured, and then released. Some of them will be recaptured again next year here, or in five years; some of them might end up flying to other banding stations and being caught and re-released there, allowing scientists to look at where birds migrate. Many of them will never be recaptured, but that’s okay. The banding stations band lots of birds and expect most of them to disappear into their secret bird lives.

6 thoughts on “Birds in the hand again (finally!)

    • Bird yoga would be HARD. You’d have to stand on the very tips of your toes, and be able to reach your head all the way back behind your butt. (Just picture a bird preening his tailfeathers – I am very sure I couldn’t do that.) On the other hand, some yoga does seem designed to be extra hard – bikram yoga? – so maybe there would be a market…

  1. Does the bird banding station share their data with you? How many species did they catch and band the day you were there? How many of the birds they caught were already banded?

    • I haven’t asked them if they will share their data (tempted as I am – I need to focus on wrapping up my dissertation before I take on new projects), but they definitely have been open to sharing data with researchers in the past, and are generally very generous with their limited resources. We caught 21 species, if memory serves, and more than half of the birds were already banded. (This is a seasonal thing: in winter, you tend to recapture the same birds over and over, whereas you get lots of new birds during migration and lots of new young birds during the breeding season. I’m looking forward to experiencing that.)

  2. The is something I never did. I came to birds late and have other things to do. But some bird artists are also ringers and I think the experience of handling birds really helped their drawing, capturing the essence of the bird.

    • You get a good sense of bird anatomy from handling them—or you certainly should, if the person training you is doing a good job. I think a good substitute, if one wanted to get that sense without training up to be bander, is just to handle a few dead birds. I prepped a few birds for the museum, and you get the same sense of how long the neck is, how the limbs all relate, etc.

      Not that you need to—the birds in your work always look just right!

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