Sharp-eyed visitors may have noticed that some of the small birds in the Nature Park are sporting shiny new bracelets. The bracelets are thanks to a professional biologist who is banding the birds for research purposes. Individuals within a species look alike, so a band, imprinted with a unique number code, is the only way to distinguish one bird from another.
The birds are caught in fine mist nets that are temporarily erected near the bird feeding station. The nets are monitored at all times and when a bird flies into the net it is immediately removed. In a matter of minutes the bird is weighed and measured, its age is assessed by patterns on the surface of the feathers, its health is gauged by the amount of fat on its breastbone, and if possible, it is sexed. Before it is released a tiny metal band is affixed to its ankle. The band is light and slightly lose so it doesn’t harm the bird. Handling a wild bird will frighten it but they soon forget the experience -when released they often fly straight back to the feeder.
Researchers keep a record of each bird they band. This record will follow the bird through its entire life. Each time the bird is caught, new information will be added to its file. If another researcher catches the bird they will add their information to the same file. Over the life of the bird a researcher may learn about its habitat preferences, where it moves throughout the seasons, where it moved throughout it’s life, if it migrated and how long it lived.
On September 24, 1905, James Henry Fleming placed a band on the foot of an American Robin in his backyard in Toronto, Ontario, in the hopes of discovering where it went for the winter. One hundred years later, over 900 banders place bands and markers on over 300 000 migratory birds each year in Canada. The information gathered is used by biologists and wildlife managers to study behaviours and ecology, monitor populations and protect endangered species.
Environment Canada's Bird Banding Office and the United States Geological Survey's Bird Banding Laboratory have jointly administered the North American Bird Banding Program since 1923. More than 66 million birds have been banded in North America with close to 4 million encounters for 980 species and subspecies since 1908. Banding and recovery data collected in Canada contribute to ornithological research and the conservation and management of North American migratory birds throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The North American Bird Banding Program relies on the public to report found bird bands. In Canada less than 1% of bands applied to song birds are recovered.
Canadians who find a banded bird or a bird band are asked to note as much information as they can about the bird and its band and report their observations by calling the Bird Banding Office toll-free (1-800-327-BAND), by sending an e-mail message or by writing a letter to:
Bird Banding Office
National Wildlife Research Centre
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0H3
For more information about bird banding or assisting as a volunteer with a banding project, contact one of the many bird observatories across Canada. Volunteering is the best way to learn the challenging skills necessary to become a bird bander. For a list of bird observatories across Canada view the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network website at http://www.bsc-eoc.org/national/cmmn.html.