|Female Hairy Woodpecker|
This weekend we were invited to visit a bird-bander who is the professor of ornithology at the local college. We weren't sure at all what to expect, but as we arrived at his home in the woods we could just make out some fine, loose netting billowing in the wind. Apparently this is not ideal - when there is no wind, they lie still and are very difficult to see.
He showed us around his yard; he has netting strung up on three sides, and a ground trap for the ground feeders. He had smeared a mixture of suet and peanut butter to the sides of two of his trees, which was doing a wonderful job of attracting woodpeckers. He's had the opportunity to band 4 pileated woodpeckers, and there was one flirting around the woods just on the other side of the netting (swoon!!), but they never got any closer. There were several red-headed, hairy and downy woodpeckers taking advantage of the feast, but the one who got caught in the netting was too big and had an easy time of shaking it off.
He showed us his set-up - the tiny numbered bands that are fixed around the leg of the tiny songbirds he catches; the scale he has rigged up to carefully and safely weigh the birds; a magnifying glass on a stand to help him read the numbers when the birds he catches have already been banded, by him or by someone else. He is studying the migration patterns of songbirds - who returns to the same spot year after year? How far do they go? While he is not licensed to capture and band hummingbirds (they are so fragile, they demand a specialized training), he told us about a rufous hummingbird, common on the west coast, and never seen here, who somehow, year after year, made it out to this area, and then back across the Rockies. A hummingbird bander from Michigan came down to check it out. Crazy bird...
|tiny metal bands|
After hanging around for an hour, talking about birds, the girls were getting a little restless and we decided we'd give it 10 more minutes and then head home. (Last Sunday, at the tail end of the ice storm, he captured and banded or recorded 85 birds!) Finally Dan spotted something caught in one of the nets and we ran out to see what it was. A white-breasted nuthatch!
|The back claw is backwards, allowing the bird to travel down a tree trunk|
We rounded up our things and then looked for Ani who had gone to visit the dog in his little pen in back (dogs and netting are not a great combination!!), and was making her way back, slowly, along one of the netted walls of the yard. Suddenly she came running and calling - another bird caught in the net! This one so low to the ground it looked like a leaf that was caught - it would have been very easy to miss for a long while (though he regularly walks the nets to make sure he isn't missing anyone).
Eliza thinks she might like to apprentice to a bander when she's older - you have to be sixteen around here. I felt so privileged to be so near these little creatures...