Test Your Bird Knowledge
By Claire Peaslee | September 25, 2015
Bird-banding is a method Point Blue uses to gain information about the lives of birds — the ways birds signal environmental change, the well-being of populations, evidence of restoration success, and more. Starting in 1965 with our first bird monitoring study on outer Point Reyes, we band birds to gather data that guides effective conservation. Point Blue’s long-term data sets are critical to the success of our work, providing key insights into change over time.
The Palomarin Field Station is one place where visitors can observe this process up close. At other sites, Point Blue bands migratory and resident songbirds, seabirds in their nesting colonies on the Farallon Islands, shorebirds that are wintering or migrating along the Pacific Flyway, Snowy Plovers that breed on California beaches, California Gull chicks at Mono Lake, and more.
Can you answer the following questions – or make your best guess? This quiz will get you thinking about some amazing aspects of Point Blue’s bird-banding research. Keep reading to find the answers.
- What bird species do you suppose we banded the largest number of last year? (Hint: this is not necessarily a songbird!).
- In our California banding records, what do the following species have in common: House Finch, Northern Spotted Owl, Yellow-green Vireo, Ovenbird, Blue Grosbeak, and Belted Kingfisher?
- What was the most commonly caught vagrant species (the off-course migratory songbird) in our mist nets in 2014?
Diana Humple is the Point Blue staff person who coordinates all this bird-banding activity. She is a Senior Ecologist, based at our Palomarin Field Station, and also Point Blue’s primary banding permit holder. What does this involve? Diana says, “I’m responsible for requesting permissions for each of the banding activities we do across all our projects; for managing our banding data and submitting records into the federal database of the U.S. Geological Society Bird Banding Lab; and working with our biologists on our training and data quality standards. Occasionally I even get out into the field and band birds in a few of our projects!”
Recently, Diana completed an annual summary of Point Blue banding activity for the year 2014, for a publication in the journal North American Bird Bander. In the process, she mined some surprising highlights, sampled below. (Could you have guessed at these numbers?)
- Answer to Question #1: Our top 10 species, for most birds banded, were the usual suspects:
- #10 Swainson’s Thrush (339 birds)
- #9 Ashy Storm-Petrel (379 birds)
- #8 Song Sparrow (390 birds)
- #7 Cassin’s Auklet (433 birds)
- #6 Ruby-crowned Kinglet (480 birds)
- #5 Western Gull (494 birds)
- #4 Wilson’s Warbler (513 birds)
- #3 Brandt’s Cormorant (640 birds)
- # 2 California Gull (824 birds)
- All 824 of the California Gulls banded were chicks, banded over a five-day period at Mono Lake by a dedicated team led by Point Blue biologist Kristie Nelson, in a project that has been ongoing since 1983.
- #1 (drum roll, please)… Snowy Plover, the only species to top the 1000 mark, with 1220 birds banded!
- Most of these plovers were chicks, banded at their nests, along with some adults. The total spans three projects where Point Blue and partners are monitoring Snowy Plover breeding success.
- Answer to Question #2: We banded the same number of House Finches in California as we did Yellow-green Vireos, Ovenbirds, Blue Grosbeaks, Belted Kingfishers, Northern Spotted Owls, and Orchard Orioles. That number? One of each! House Finch is a very common species in California but uncommon in the study areas where we currently mist-net and band birds.
- The Northern Spotted Owl was a young bird about to be released by the wildlife rehabilitation center Wildcare, which occasionally calls upon Point Blue, under our permit, to band species listed as threatened.
- Answer to Question #3: Our most commonly caught California vagrant was the Blackpoll Warbler: nine (!) were banded last fall on Southeast Farallon Island, in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
All together, our 2014 total topped 10K, with 10,038 individual birds banded. These totals come from banding in 15 different research and monitoring programs in California, Arizona, and beyond. They do not include our work in Antarctica, which is beyond the scope of the USGS summary, nor the thousands of already-banded birds (“recaps”) that Point Blue captured in 2014.
As Diana Humple observes, “The data generated from bird banding represents a unique intersection between what’s happening with populations as a whole and with the individual. Results of long-term monitoring research at Point Blue have shown this relationship to be invaluable to conservation science.”