This summer, Fernbank has the opportunity to begin working with the Smithsonian Institution’s Neighborhood Nestwatch program. This citizen science project is geared to connect bird enthusiasts with actual researchers to gather scientific data related to bird habits and population patterns. Recently, Christine Bean (VP of Education) and I had the opportunity to learn firsthand how the program works, as Chris’ yard has become one of the research sites, along with her next-door-neighbor.
As an educator with a passion for animals and scientific research, I was intrigued to learn more about how the program actually works at the study sites and was not disappointed. The Nestwatch scientist, Alie, began by observing the area and surveying which bird species were present. Then, we helped setup mist nets and a sort of “field command station”. Throughout the few hours we monitored the nets, we caught a handful of birds, which were banded, measured, recorded and released. We also caught a few species that are not currently targeted in the study, so they were released unharmed.
“It was the first time I’d held a bird—Alie taught me how to hold it so it would be gently yet firmly supported. I was struck by the warmth of this tiny creature, and its strong heartbeat,” Christine Bean
Having a propensity for working hands-on with animals, I was thrilled about the opportunity to help manage the birds through the process and aid in recording their measurements. The birds banded included a Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal and 2 Chickadees. Chris and her neighbor will continue to observe these animals year after year and report their data directly to the Smithsonian Institution.
Cardinal with “pacifier”
During the experience, one of the most entertaining parts was learning about the different behaviors of each bird species. We learned that Cardinals and Tufted Titmouse are two species that “announce” their frustrations throughout the banding process and that cardinals have the most powerful bites of the 8 targeted species for this study. While the Cardinal was in the process of measurement and banding, Alie offered a twig to pacify the bird and it worked!
I couldn’t believe how quickly and efficiently Alie was able to work with the birds, recording their data and going through several steps before releasing them back into the neighborhood. She held the bird in one hand, using the other to write, shuffle through data sheets and measure tail and tarsus lengths. The birds were also weighed, sexed and evaluated for body fat content. Alie’s compassion for these animals was also evident from her gentle and comforting manner, all while explaining the process and answering questions from us. Overall, the experience was incredibly rewarding, as we learned about the birds and the research process and had the opportunity to actually be a part of this scientific study!
Learn more about Neighborhood Nestwatch and find out how YOUR backyard can be involved.
—Lynn Anders, Animal Programs Coordinator