Island Updates


Bird Banding on Hurricane Island

Post By Chloe Tremper, Science Educator

Determining the appropriate band size for this female American Redstart

This past week, Hurricane Island was host to an Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) beginner bird banding class.  The IBP is a nonprofit corporation that studies the causes of bird population declines.  In addition to development of initiatives like Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS), a collaborative network of independent banding stations across the U.S. and Canada, IBP also works to train future avian conservationists.  Their hands-on training courses teach skills such as operating mist-nets, bird-handling skills, bird aging and sexing techniques, and data recording using MAPS protocols and forms.  The week consisted of hands-on banding in the mornings followed by afternoon lectures and discussions about avian life histories, banding ethics, the bird banding permitting process, and the role of banding in research and monitoring.

Setting up the mist nets

Male Common Yellowthroat

For anyone unfamiliar with bird banding, it involves setting up mist-nets (finely woven large nets about 10 ft. tall strung between two poles about 25 ft. apart) and checking the nets at regular intervals for entangled birds.  During this class on Hurricane, participants set up the nets, opened them each morning at sunrise (~5:00am), and checked the nets every 40 minutes until around noon.  If entangled birds were found during net checks, they were safely extracted and brought to the lab for processing.  Back at the lab, each bird was identified by species, sexed, aged, weighed, its body condition was checked, and then a small metal band with an identifying number was placed on the bird’s leg.

Female Song Sparrow

The numbered band allows individual birds to be identified if they are recaptured.  For example, if an American Redstart banded on Hurricane is recaptured in Belize, the person who caught it in Belize will know that it migrated all the way from Maine, how old it was when it was first banded, and other important information about that individual bird.  Bird banding data is used for research and management projects across the globe because it allows people to track the migratory patterns, ranges, longevity, and behaviors of individual birds.

Each morning on Hurricane, the banders were up before the crack of dawn so that they were ready to open up the first nets just after sunrise, when birds are most active.  Some of the species banded on Hurricane this week include: Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Gray Catbird, Song Sparrow, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Winter Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, and more! 

Most mornings the banders caught and processed around 15 birds, however on their second to last day they caught 27 individuals! We had a great time hosting the IBP beginner bird banding class and hope to host more in the future! We are also looking forward to learning where the birds banded on Hurricane end up in the world.

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Ornithology ISLE 2014

For our first ISLE program of the season we had five boys join us for a week of ornithology themed activities including bird-house building, bird bingo, and morning bird hikes. By the end of the program students were able to identify by site and sound the top 25 birds that call Hurricane home during our summer season.

Students also enjoyed some silly moments trying on bird costumes (like the Osprey in this photo) to learn more about how different birds are adapted to the environment that they live in. 

Students also enjoyed some silly moments trying on bird costumes (like the Osprey in this photo) to learn more about how different birds are adapted to the environment that they live in. 

Some of the birds that we were able to see during the week were Cedar Waxwings, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, and Winter Wrens. We helped students visualize bird songs by looking at spectrograms and they were challenged to come up with their own mnemonics to remember the unique songs for each bird. Some standard mnemonics that professional birders use are “witchity-witchity-witchity” for the Common Yellowthroat Warbler, and “Oh Sam peabody-peabody-peabody” for the White-Throated Sparrow.

The Red-Billed Tropicbird flies next to a Tern

The Red-Billed Tropicbird flies next to a Tern

One of the highlights of the week was a special day trip out to see offshore nesting seabird colonies on Seal Island with local naturalist and ornithologist John Drury. John took us around the perimeter of Seal Island and then we were met by Nicole, a researcher with Project Puffin, who is living on the island this summer monitoring puffin and tern chicks at their nesting sites. Birds that nest on Seal Island during the summer include Razorbills, Puffins, Great Cormorants, Common and Arctic Terns, Eider Ducks, and Black Guillemots. We were also lucky enough to see a Red-Billed Tropicbird, an out-of-range visitor to the area, which usually is found along the Baja Peninsula on the West Coast of Mexico.  John Drury believes that this bird followed some Terns and has been happily nesting in the area since.

On our final evening we enjoyed a cookout on the south end of the island and a spectacular view of the full moon rising over the water. It was really fun to watch these students get excited about birding and become talented amateur ornithologists!

Students enjoy a quiet moment as the full moon rises over Heron's Neck lighthouse

Students enjoy a quiet moment as the full moon rises over Heron's Neck lighthouse

Register for our 2015 Ornithology ISLE program here! 

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