I knew there was a reason I kept all of my field gear…

And that reason is that I am a hoarder. But that turns out to be fortunate, because I’ve become involved in a project that just so happens to need someone to go sample some birds for them, and I already have all the tools.

In a few weeks a co-conspirator and I will head off to North Carolina and West Virginia to chase three target species:


Kentucky Warbler. Photo by Julio Mulero: www.flickr.com/photos/juliom/

American Redstart

American Redstart. Photo by Dan Pancamo: www.flickr.com/photos/pancamo/


Canada Warbler. Photo by Ric McArthur: www.flickr.com/photos/ricmcarthur/

These species are the subject of study by the Bird Genoscape Project, which uses genetics to figure out the migration routes of birds. Migration is notoriously hard to study, and exactly where birds go when they fly between their breeding and wintering grounds remains mostly unknown. The Bird Genoscape Project’s strategy is this: if you can identify the genetic “fingerprint” of birds from each breeding location, then you can use that to figure out where a migrating bird is going to (or coming from). A decade ago this would have been impossible, but as genetic technologies have improved, genotyping hundreds of birds has become feasible.

To build this reference map of genetic fingerprints, the Project needs genetic samples from everywhere that a species breeds. (These genetic samples will just be a bit of blood; the birds are released afterwards and are fine.) There are already many people across the country contributing samples; but for the three species I’ll be seeking, there was a gap in North Carolina and West Virginia.

So I’m digging out my banding pliers, packing up my mist net poles, and getting ready to chase birds again.

4 thoughts on “I knew there was a reason I kept all of my field gear…

  1. Hi! My kids and I startled four fledgeling juncos out of their nest today when taking a peek. We’d discovered them five days ago (on Sunday) at which point they had down and some feathers. Today when we looked they scattered and ran/flitted all over the place. We tried to return them to their nest but they just wouldn’t stay put and scampered off, I think under the shed nearby where their nest was. I feel awful. Seeing these baby birds has been an amazing experience for our family and I’m really hoping they can make it. Do they sound like they are old enough to make a go of it? They have a very attentive mama bird. I plan to go out there tomorrow and see if she shows up…which I’m thinking would tell me they’re still around?

    • You don’t need to worry. While it’s always best to let birds leave the nest in their own time, the fact that your juncos ran off while you were peeking suggests that they were good and ready to go, and just waiting for some precipitating event. Too, the fast that they kept “scampering off” tells me that they are good little runners already, which is what a fledgling junco needs. They’ll spend the next few days being very quiet and hidden, and you may have trouble seeing any sign of them. However, once they have grown their wing feathers in enough that they can fly, they should become much more visible and noisy, following their parents around and begging for food. It’s likely that you’ll see them then, if they haven’t left the area before then.

      The most important thing you can do now is minimize the dangers to the young fledglings: if you have an outdoor cat, consider keeping it indoors for at least the next few days; if you have a dog, consider keeping it on leash when it’s near the nest.

      I hope you get to see your juncos again! I don’t think you did any harm; those birds were ready to go. :-)

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