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The Banding Of The Birds

Author: Bill Maher
Date: November 29, 2007
Some in the tree climbing community have wondered how those of us in Georgia have managed to create the relationship that exists between climbers and our State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). While the following article has nothing to do with tree climbing, it is an example of some of the things that we are doing to enhance the relationship. The more of this sort of thing that we do, the better the relationship becomes.

Birds are supposed to be up in the trees, but this time of year they’re often hunkered down from the autumn winds in the tall grasses of isolated meadows. That’s why several of us tree climbers have been spending extra hours on the ground.

Joe of the Jungle, Swamp Fox and I have volunteered several of our recent Saturday mornings to help state biologists and Charlie Muise, a licensed bird bander and middle-school science instructor who occasionally teaches ornithology classes at local universities.

We have been using a remote grassland area at Panola Mountain State Park east of Atlanta for the project. The 40-acre meadow, which is slowly being restored with native grasses and sedges, is adjacent to South River. This is a stream that once was Atlanta’s “sewer” but it has been cleaned up in recent years and now is home to a dozen species of freshwater fish and large flocks of migratory waterfowl.

Grasslands arre fast declining in metro Atlanta and many other areas of the nation because of rapid development, says Phil Delestrez, a state wildlife ranger and assistant manager at Panola Mountain. As a result, populations of many grassland birds also are in sharp decline.

The banding program at Panola Mountain will track the birds there and help determine if the restoration effort is boosting populations of the grassland species. Muise will continue the bird banding through the winter.

Joe, Swamp Fox and I will admit that our main reason for volunteering for this project is a little self-serving – by helping these state biologists and researchers we hope to make friendly contacts that will open up more public lands to recreational tree climbing.

But the project is also educational and interesting. Cindy Reittinger, the senior naturalist for Georgia’s 53 state parks, has been bringing 9-year-old daughter Emily to the Saturday morning bird-bandings. Emily says it’s more fun than her weekly gymnastics classes at a nearby YMCA.

And Emily gets a few minutes of extra sleep in the back seat of mom’s car on the way to the park, since everything starts at dawn.

Before the sun is fully up we try to have five mist nets set up. Each is about 30 feet long and made of nearly invisible nylon that is stretched like a volleyball net between 10-foot aluminum poles.

"Mist-netting," Muise explained, is an efficient way to capture birds in flight while posing minimal risk of injury to them. But the process causes some stress to the birds, so Muise and other trained volunteers try to get them disentangled, banded and released as quickly as possible.

So far, none of us tree climbers have actually disentangled or handled the birds. Instead, we help set up and monitor the nets, record data onto worksheets and do the “go-fer” work that includes setting up the temporary banding station.

At the banding station, Muise determines the gender, age, fat content, wingspan, mass and other data. He then selects a tiny aluminum band and clamps it onto one of the bird’s feet. Each band has a unique number to identify the bird.

Banding, Muise says, is one of the most effective methods to study the biology, ecology, behavior, movement, breeding and population demographics of birds. However, the work requires skills that must be demonstrated to the federal Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland before anyone can be licensed as a bird-bander.

The lab also carefully controls who gets the aluminum bands and mist nets, which are available only to the nation’s 2,000 licensed banders. The lab is also the computerized storage site for the data obtained by banders.

If you spot or find a bird with a band, get as much information as you can and report it to www.reportband.gov.

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