Jack Miner, of Kingsville, Ontario, was one of the first to band birds in Canada in 1909. An American, Leon Cole, was reported banding birds a few years earlier. Records in Europe indicate bird banding activities dating back into the 1500’s. Miner was particularly interested in the migratory patterns of ducks and geese. The banding practise was activated in Canatara Park this May. No ducks or geese were banded!
Rachel Powless and Carl Pascoe are the bird banders and organizers of the bird banding in Canatara Park with the support of the City of Sarnia and Lambton Wildlife.
There is a lot of work involved in getting ready to band birds. Even before the actual banding process, there is equipment needed for the day of the banding. A shelter, tables, chairs, net poles, nets, bird books, scales, computer, lights, extension cords and bird bags are some of the items that are loaded into the car. Clothing choices are also important. Wet, dry, hot and cold all must be part of the planning. The weather of the day will dictate what is needed.
Some of the equipment, like the tent and the planning for the net locations, will happen the night before the banding. The day of the banding starts very early. The crew arrives well before daylight, around 4:30 AM, to set up the nets. Usually, five to seven nets are erected on two trails to the west of Lake Chipican. Caution tape is put into place at the ends of the trails to prevent park users from bumping into the nets, where they could entangle themselves or injure the birds in the nets.
Preparation work is also in process inside the shelter. Rings, holding the actual bands, are put into place. Lights are positioned and the computer will be booted up. Reference books are positioned both for helping to identified specific details of the bird and for data entry abbreviations.
When everything is ready, the nets will be opened and the action starts. People take up their assigned positions. The primary position, of course, is limited to the two banders. An input person will enter the data. Runners/assistants will check nets for birds at fixed intervals. The banders are usually the only ones that will extract the birds from the net. Assistants may be asked, under specific circumstances, to help keep the net material out of the way while the banders untangle the birds. The assistants will also keep a supply of bags used to transport the birds from the nets to the shelter and will have a bag ready to hold the bird once it is removed. The runners will also transport the birds from the nets to the shelter.
At the shelter, the bird bags waiting to be processed are hung from hooks. They are usually in the order in which they are removed from the nets. The birds are identified, sexed, weighted, aged and checked for amounts of fat. A tiny numbered band is also attached to the bird’s leg. The weight of the band is minimal and in no way impairs the flight of the bird. The band number and all the data is recorded into the computer.
Aging the bird is an interesting process. Colour, colour patterns, feathers and colouring of different feathers can all be used to determine age.
The birds are inserted into a tube for weighing. Different tube sizes are required for different sized birds. It is not uncommon to be innovative in finding tubes sizes to do the job. Toilet roll tubes, potato chip tubes and pill bottles have all been pressed into service.
The processing is repeated until the nets are closed at the end of the day.
During the first weekend, 141 birds and 16 species were banded. Not surprising to most of the regular birders in the park, most of the birds banded were Yellow-rumped Warblers, with 90 being banded. Eighty-three per cent of the Yellow-rumped Warblers banded were male. My choice of the best bird banded during this first weekend was the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
The second weekend of banding was later in the migration season. Rachel Powless, one of the banders, reported that both days were cool and windy. The late migration season and the temperatures were not the best environment for banding and the total count for the weekend was less than the first weekend.
Saturday, May 21, 18 species and 26 birds were banded. On Sunday, May 22, 21 species and 43 birds were banded. Highlight of the weekend was the banding of two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
Rachel and Carl were encouraged by the success of the two banding weekends. The number of birds banded was not sufficient enough to come to any conclusions of Canatara being an important migratory stop-over as indicated by Rachel’s comment “Observational information from birders in the area combined with the banding data indicates this could be an important stopover site and further research is indicated”.
Both Carl and Rachel look forward to working with Lambton Wildlife at Canatara in the future.