Friday, August 22, 2008

Bird Banding Draws Media Attention

Although Tropical Storm Fay lashed the Carolina Lowcountry with bands of rain and wind, that story was "so old news" for the local print media. Bryce Donovan of the Post and Courier and Jenny Peterson of the Summerville Journal Scene endured a Fay-induced soaking to see how birds are banded at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest as Jeff Mollenhauer, Director of Bird Conservation, prepares to launch Project PROTHO.

After the rain abated, the four nets were opened again. Another half hour later, we were able to check the nets set along the edge of the swamp (two on the dry side and two on the usually wet side). Only one net, which was located on the dry side, had any birds tangled in its mesh. The three squawking hostages were a female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), a Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), and a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). Although we were not there to see how the captures occurred, we have a theory. All of the birds call freely when distressed. One of the three likely got caught, called in alarm and attracted the curious attention of at least one of the remaining two birds. As noted in the previous bird banding blog entry, the net is extremely difficult to see. A second bird caught in the net and adding to the alarm calls may have brought in the final bird. The bird equivalent to, "Oh! Shucks!" was probably uttered more than once.

On the back porch of the nature center, the bagged birds were removed individually, banded and their vital statistics taken. Bryce held and subsequently released the Carolina Wren and the Tufted Titmouse, but passed on the Northern Cardinal after hearing a description of the painful bite that the seed-cracking bill can inflict on human digits. The recapture of birds, like those caught today, will help us learn more about the bird populations in our sanctuary. However, the purpose of our bird banding permit is to gather data on the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea).

The Prothonotary Warblers will receive color bands in addition to their National Bird Banding Laboratory aluminum identification bands. The color bands will allow us to identify the birds without having to recapture them as the numbers on the aluminum bands are entirely too small to read without the bird in hand. Additionally, visitors to our center or individuals along the birds' lengthy migratory route will be able to identify the birds and share the information with us. Along the boardwalk, we would like to learn the location of Prothonotary Warbler nests, the extent of a male's territory, the fidelity of breeding pairs during the breeding season and across seasons, the annual fidelity a pair has to a particular nest site, and where the birds go once their young have fledged. Currently, the birds all look alike and we are unable to determine answers to the any of these questions.

Thanks to Bryce Donovan and Jenny Peterson for taking the time to report on our upcoming bird research. Please come join us in the spring and assist us in scientific data collection while you enjoy a walk through the old-growth swamp!

Images by Mark Musselman

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