If you've heard me talk about getting hooked on birds, then you surely have heard the story of how Elaine Crossley, the bluebird lady, plopped bitty tree swallow babies into my hands during a nest box check. I was transfixed by the wiggling creatures - eyes closed tightly, pink translucent skin revealing internal organs, slightly fuzzy, but featherless so helpless and vulnerable.
Above my head more than two adults (the parents must have called in backup) scolded and dived as if to say, "Put my babies back, you brute!"
Elaine quickly removed a soggy and moldy nest, reconstructed a new nest from dry grasses, and returned the babies to the box.
Yellow warblers photo by Jennifer Schlick
Common yellowthroats photo by Jennifer Schlick
There's just something about baby animals that tugs at your heartstrings - even if the babies are bordering on downright ugly.
They do get prettier before they fledge; the babies will open their eyes and grow feathers. The feathers won't necessarily look like their parents' right away. It could take a year or more for a bird to get its mature plumage, depending on the species. We call these young, hatch year fledglings "juveniles" and because of our relatively new bird research project at Audubon, you have a chance to see them in the hand.
Each bird that is captured will be fitted with an aluminum band that has a unique identifying number. The bird is weighed and measured; sex and age are determined if possible. Then the bird is released. If and when the bird is recaptured, here or elsewhere, scientists learn more about longevity, travel, and the general wellbeing of bird populations.
Career ornithologist Emily Thomas is the bander in charge at Audubon's banding station. She arrives at 5:30 a.m. to set up nets and processes and releases birds from 6 a.m. until noon. The public is invited to drop in at the picnic pavilion on the west side of Audubon's property to learn about the project on any or all of these dates: June 16, 23 and 30; July 14 and 21; and Aug. 4.
Emily holds an associate degree in wildlife technology from Penn State DuBois, a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State, and a master's degree in wildlife and fisheries science at Penn State.
She is currently working as a wildlife biologist for the US Forest Service Northern Research Station's Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Irvine, Pa. She learned how to band in 2005 and have banded more than 30,00 birds since. She is a certified bird bander by the North American Banding Council. She established a banding program at The Arboretum at Penn State and has participated in banding programs for Audubon and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.
Our banding station is a part of a project called MAPS, Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship, and is overseen by the Institute for Bird Populations. The MAPS research project comprises a network of hundreds of banding stations across the continent. The data collected at these stations is used by educational and governmental institutions for many purposes related to the environment. According to the IBP website (www.birdpop.org/), "Birds, because of their high body temperature, rapid metabolism and high trophic position on most food webs, are excellent indicators of the effects of environmental change."
Audubon is grateful to several organizations whose donations helped us the purchase equipment needed for the project: Northern Allegheny Conservation Association, Buffalo Ornithological Society, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation's Environmental Fund and the Rochester Birding Association.
On banding days, look for the "Bird Banding" sign at the pavilion entrance to Audubon's property on Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. For more information call 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org.