Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New to the Crew

My name is Kelsey, and I am excited and proud to be the newest staff member at The World Bird Sanctuary.  I have worked with birds for several field seasons, but this is a whole new journey for me.  I have worked with passerines (song birds), waterfowl, and woodpeckers.  Birds of prey, however, are a new experience.

I’ve been interested in birds since I was a child.  I always wanted to know what species the birds were that I saw in my backyard or at school.  I would frequently ask my parents what each bird was, or grab one of my dad’s old bird books.  A friend of mine gave me my first set of field guides for birds in the United States (The Smithsonian Handbook: Birds of North America) when I was a teenager.  I looked through every single bird in both volumes and couldn’t wait to see some of these birds in the wild.

A Northern Shoveler (photo: wikipedia)

My first bit of fieldwork was in the winter and spring of 2012.  I was working on an independent research project for an ornithology class.  I studied phenology (migration patterns) of waterfowl and shore birds at Eagle Bluffs (a wetland and prairie conservation area near Columbia Missouri).  I would go to the conservation area several times each week and record the first arrival dates and population numbers of all of the different species.  This went on from early February to mid May.

We didn’t have much of a winter that year so I wanted to see which, if any, of the species would migrate through early.  I compared my data to that of the previous 20 years.  Through this and looking up diets, wintering and breeding locations, distance traveled, and temperatures over the last 20 years I was able to determine that in the long run all of the species were arriving a little bit earlier.  Compared to 2011, where we had a harsh winter, many species arrived much earlier.

My next field job was that summer of 2012 in the Missouri Ozarks.  The first half of the season was spent mapping territories and monitoring nests of passerines and woodpeckers.  Birds (especially small ones) are much easier to hear than they are to see.  So the best way to locate them and map out their territories is through sound.  I had to learn the songs and calls of every bird species in the area.  It was quite a long list!

The early mornings were spent mapping because that is when birds are most active and singing.  The late mornings and early afternoons were spent searching for nests and monitoring already found nests.  The second half of the season was all about bird banding.  The team I worked with and I would set up mist nets right as the sun was coming up, and write down all of the data on birds that we caught.  We would measure wing and tarsus (lower leg) length, weigh, sex, age, and of course identify each species.  It was a ton of fun!

Puerto Rican Tody (photo: Kelsey McCord)

The next field position was a little bit more tropical.  I spent the winter of 2012-2013 in Guanica, Puerto Rico banding birds.  I had to learn a whole new list of birds.  Most of the birds in Puerto Rico are a lot more colorful than the birds you see in Missouri.  My favorite bird to band was the Puerto Rican Tody.  They are about the size of hummingbirds and look a little bit like them, but they are actually related to kingfishers.  Since we were banding in the winter, we actually caught a lot of birds that breed in the United States.  I even caught an Ovenbird that was banded in the Ozarks that previous summer!

Stellar's Jay (photo: Kelsey McCord)

My most recent field position was in the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.  Since I had never been to the western part of the United States, these were all new birds for me.  I was on the banding crew, and I recorded all sorts of measurements from each bird and gave them a new shiny numbered leg band.  There was one bird from my guides that I had always wanted to see.  Ever since I first saw a picture of the Stellar’s Jay, I knew I had to see one.  I not only got to see them, but I got the pleasure of banding one as well!  It was most certainly the highlight bird of my summer.

The World Bird Sanctuary has given me an awesome opportunity to work with new birds and gain some awesome experience!  I am super excited to be a part of the team!

Submitted by Kelsey McCord, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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