Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good Egg to Good Eggs

At World Bird Sanctuary’s annual staff/volunteer appreciation Christmas party last December, several people were honored with awards for outstanding achievements.  WBS senior staff presenting awards for staff of the year, volunteer of the year, and junior volunteer of the year.
WBS Director Jeff Meshach presenting the Good Egg Award to the Banding Team
Many years ago Walt Crawford, founding director of WBS, thought up a very unique award based on that world famous, mother of all foods, that if we didn’t have it, there wouldn’t be any birds; the egg.  What better egg to pick to put on an award plaque than the largest egg in the world; the Ostrich egg.  In the WBS realm this biggest of eggs symbolizes quite large achievements.  At the party I had the privilege of presenting our Good Egg award to our own bird banding team.

Linda Tossing, volunteer extraordinaire and the head of the banding team, started volunteering with WBS 16 years ago.  In 2001 Linda started helping a past WBS staff member with mist netting and banding songbirds.

Mist nets are extremely fine-fibered nets, which can’t be seen by most birds.  The nets are set up in places where songbirds are likely to be flying about.  The birds fly into the nets and are removed by the net checkers, banded and then released.  Banding songbirds helps ornithologists gain knowledge on their migration patterns and populations.   Songbird populations are in decline all over North America.  From the humble beginnings of one net and 2 people, Linda took it upon herself to acquire more nets, gather old and new volunteers to help her, all on a shoestring budget.  Last year Linda and her team banded 635 songbirds; a WBS record.
Banding Team members extricating birds from the mist nets
 The banding team starts their day well before dawn, because the saying, “The early bird gets the worm,” is very true.  Birds start their foraging movements literally at the crack of dawn, then their movements lessen as the morning progresses.  Having the nets and net checkers ready early gives them much better chances of catching birds. 
Team member Valerie Giele works carefully to retrieve a bird from the nets
To top the early thing off, the team does what’s called a banding blitz, where they band every morning for 3 weeks at the end of April and the beginning of May.  This timeframe is the best time to catch especially migrating Warblers, passing through eastern Missouri on their way to northern forests for nesting.  Everyone of those days the team gathers on WBS property at 4am, since it’s light enough by 5 to start catching birds.  I’m a morning person, but even I would get tired after a few days of that! 
Team member Colleen Crank banding a Nuthatch
As the summer wears on the team bands once every 2 weeks, and takes part in a program called Monitoring Avian Productivity Survey (MAPS).  The measurements and other information gathered from each bird trapped are sent to a national database, and helps researchers keep track of breeding songbirds in the U.S.
Birds' weights are recorded 
 At the other end of the “keeping odd hours” spectrum, in the autumn of 2012 the banding team started mist netting Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus).  Saw-whet Owls are a small species, just 5 inches tall from foot to head (come out and see our resident Saw-whet Owl, Aspen, on display at our nature center). 
Naturalist Cathy Spahn holds one of the Saw-whet Owls banded during this special session
Northern Saw-whet Owls nest in northern forests, but not too much is known about their southern migration routes or where they stay for the winter.  These little owls only move after dark, so the banding team starts their activities at about 6pm and ends their banding at 10pm.  These dedicated volunteers band every night for 3 weeks straight!  The banding team proved beyond a doubt that Saw-whets pass through WBS property on their way to their wintering grounds.  The team banded 7 Saw-whets during late October and November of 2012 and 14 during the same timeframe in 2013.

Colleen Crank explains to guests what the banding team does
 To top this all off, the banding team does public mist netting demonstrations every other week throughout the summer, to teach our guests all about songbirds and what WBS and other organizations are doing to help save them.  If that’s not a busy schedule, I’m a Chestnut-sided Warbler’s uncle! 

World Bird Sanctuary thanks Linda and the rest of the bird banding team for their tireless efforts in helping save our country’s songbirds.  Please check out our website to find out when the mist netting demonstrations will be, as well as many other WBS special events.

Submitted by Jeff Meshach, World Bird Sanctuary Director

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