What we learn from bird banding

Last summer I had the opportunity to volunteer at a (temporary) banding station at Rollins Savanna, a preserve in the Lake County Forest Preserve District. The banding station followed the MAPS protocol, which basically means we were doing a breeding bird survey. We went out approximately every ten days during the summer months. The data will be analyzed over time to look at how the habitat is being used by breeding birds, like this Cedar Waxwing we banded on June 20th.

I was able to join the team at Rollins Savanna after attending a forest preserve banding demonstration in 2009 and talking the MAPS group during their 2009 season. I wanted to learn more about birds and more about the banding process. It was a great experience, I certainly learned a lot, but there is much more to learn. Now that the banding season is over, I’ve been reading more about how bird banding data benefits conservation science, and ultimately the birds themselves.

We learn about how birds age.

  • A Manx Shearwater that was first banded in 1953 as a four- to six-year-old adult may be the longest-lived wild bird. It was recaptured several times, the most recent being in 2003, meaning it was at least 54 years old.
  • The oldest known Little Penguin lived 21 years; the average lifespan of the Little Penguin is 5 years.
  • The average lifespan of the Whimbrel is about eleven years. Recently, a bird that had been ringed in Scotland in 1986 was recovered. The bird must be at least 24 years old, a new record for the species.

    We learn about bird migration.

  • A Common Tern banded in central Sweden was found dead five months later in New Zealand, more than 10,500 miles away.
  • A banded Barn Swallow made the journey from South Africa to the United Kingdom in just 27 days.
  • Arctic Terns have fantastically long migrations. A tern chick banded in eastern Britain in 1982 was recaptured in Australia three months later. The young bird had traveled over 14,000 miles over sea.

    Of course these extreme records are interesting, but a lot of data gleaned from bird banding is about averages and trends. Breeding success data helps land managers determine where habitat restoration or maintenance resources will best benefit the birds. Migration data helps scientists understand changes in bird populations and helps environmental groups working to help birds on both breeding and wintering grounds. If you’d like to learn more about bird banding and data collection, some excellent resources are listed below.

    Further reading:
    Bird Ringing for Science and Conservation (pdf)
    Fat Birder’s Banding & Ringing page
    North American Bird Banding Manual

    Share the birds, share the love!
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