We tried to band and track some of the birds in Mr. Neil's yard on Sunday. Professional banders Mark Newstrom and Roger Everhart came out and set up some nets--just like they did last fall. Above is the first bird we banded--an eastern phoebe. On the left is Roger and on the right is Mark. We were expecting a 70 degree day, but the morning started with fog and 37 degrees. Fabulous Lorraine, who is Mr. Neil's assistant was taking good care of us by keeping a steady flow of coffee our way--to keep us alert and warm.
What surprised me were the number of hairy woodpeckers we got in the nets on Sunday. Mr. Neil has a huge population of woodpeckers on his property--partly because he doesn't cut down and haul away every dead and dying tree. Some have to be removed for safety, but even when trees come down, some are left as huge fun brush piles. But, we had so many hairy woodpeckers come in, I lost count--I think we got in five. Above is the head of a female hairy woodpecker.
One of the things that the guys check for are brood patches. Above, Roger is blowing on the feathers of the female hairy, exposing a large patch of bare skin--females (and males of some species) get these to keep eggs warm during incubation and keep chicks warm on cold days. Speaking of which, Roger and Mark noted on this female that the skin was wrinkly. That tells them that she already has chicks at the nest! When the brood patch first forms--the skin swells for incubation. After incubation, the swelling goes away and the skin has wrinkles.
Here is one of the male hairy woodpeckers that came into the net (note that the sun did eventually come out). Are you noting the length of that hairy bill--that is one of the ways you can tell them from a downy woodpecker--hairys have longer bills. Speaking of length...
in the spring, you look for things like cloacal protuberances (aka bird boner). I know length isn't supposed to matter, but for a bird, this is impressive. When the hormones kick in, the cp swells and remains that way for a few weeks. Imagine having to fly around with that swollen for a few weeks. It must be hard to concentrate.
Owie! We did get in a couple of female red-bellied woodpeckers. I was glad because this is Lorraine's favorite species.
Red-bellies have really cool tongues. Note above the hardened tip that is covered in sharp bristles that are used to spear and grab on to larvae inside dead trees. These birds can be a challenge in the net because their tongue bristles can get caught on the nets. You always have to be careful when taking birds out of the nets, but it gets really tricky with this species. One of the many reasons you need have permits and be well trained to band birds.
Speaking of training, Mark and Roger were very gracious and let me help so I could learn. Early on, I would start to get a bird out and then give it to them. Both showed me their techniques of getting birds out of the nets and towards the end of the morning, I was getting birds out (without shaking). They even let me practice my banding on a robin. I've been doing so many juncos, I needed the practice with a larger bird. Oh! I should mention that this female was VERY vocal. As we were taking a photo before she left, she was squawking and out of nowhere two male robins flew in and one almost hit me in the face! We let her go--my goodness, the dangers of banding.
Roger was excited to get to band a new bird species. Tufted titmice are not found in the area where he and Mark usually band birds. I had hoped last fall that they would get one, but did not. We did on Sunday and it's the same bird in the video posted earlier. I swear, this species head is 80% eyeball.
I was noting on Thursday that I was still seeing tree sparrows and no chipping sparrows yet. Well, that changed on Sunday, we got in quite a few chipping sparrows. It will be interesting to watch and see if the chipping sparrows keep heading north or will be the birds that nest here in summer.
We got in some white-breasted nuthatches, but no red-breasted. We saw at least three red-breasted nuthatches in the net, but each one managed to work their way through--perhaps because they are so tiny, which is odd because we got some last fall. I wonder if they were a tad fatter then?
I think we banded close to 30 birds on Sunday morning--check out poor Roger's knuckles in the above photo--that's what comes from banding woodpeckers all morning. One of them actually drew blood! Although, he's holding a phoebe in the above photo--it almost looks like that bird did it.
Check out this shot that Amber got of the eastern phoebe being released--what a great shot! I love how the bird's head is turned, almost as if giving her the perfect pose on purpose. It was a great day of banding and the guys will be back in a couple of weeks to try and get some warblers. Should be fun!