The Browniest Of Birds

A cool front has moved in and it's finally starting to feel like autumn. It was another busy morning banding birds at Carpenter Nature Center--when I arrived, they had taken 15 birds out of one net! Incidentally, CNC is selling apples from the orchard (Zestars) and have some you pick raspberries (as if the birding were reason enough to visit).

I'm finally to the point where I'm an actual helper, really banding the birds and taking them out of the nets. For a long time, I just documented the events, but I'm finally to the point where I can be of some real use. I felt like joined the big kid table somewhat because I got to band a small empid flycatcher. They can be agony to id in the fall--even in hand six inches from your face. But with some help it was determined that the above bird was a willow flycatcher. This flycatcher was so young, that as we were taking it out of the net, it started making whiny calls and fluttering its wings--food begging behavior (kind of an odd little avian Stockholm syndrome there).

A surprise for me was a cedar waxwing in the nets. Such a pretty bird, almost like a female cardinal with a lot of make up on...which I think I've probably stated more than once in the probably will again.

Someone's bringin' waxy back! Check out the waxy appendages on those secondary flight feathers. For those curious, BNA says that the red bits are colored by astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment and increase in size and number with the waxwing's age. If they don't have any, they are likely immature waxwings.

Later in the morning, someone from the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center came by with about 23 young mallards that had been raised in the waterfowl nursery. They are going to be released in a few days so we put bands on them. Interesting to note: if you hold a duck in just the right way, it can act as a very stinky squirt gun when it poops--just so you know.

The cool sunny day was so gorgeous, that I couldn't leave when we finished banding so I went out to take some photos. The prairie is glowing with late summer flowers. Above is a young song sparrow with its back to the wind. Take a look at the tail--feathers are still growing in.

A field sparrow popped up on some sumac, not too far from the song sparrow. As I was watching this bird, a second field sparrow flew in:

This one was carrying food. Curious, it chipped nervously while I walked the path and took photos. Eventually, it ducked down into the grasses and I could hear faint begging calls. Seriously? You guys went for another brood in Minnesota? It's early September, what's going to happen next week when the young fledge? Will you say, "Great, now that you've mastered flying five feet, you need to know that in the next couple of weeks, we're gonna fly a few thousand miles night." I wonder if any studies have been done on migratory birds and multiple broods? Do birds hatched earlier in the summer that have had more time to master flight and catching food fare better than birds hatched late?

Another interesting thing about the second bird--it's wearing a band, it's been in the CNC nets at some point. Oh, and we had a very interesting retrap today--a female goldfinch who was originally banded SEVEN years ago. Incredible!

That concludes our regularly scheduled update of brown birds.

Busy Day Of Banding

This is a photo that Larry Sirvio took of Tennessee warbler at Carpenter Nature Center--one of the 47 some odd birds that we banded this morning. Oy.

It was just nuts at banding today--I barely had any time to get photos. I arrived a little late and noticed some of the parking lot was getting ready to be repaved. I thought to myself, "With all this construction activity, I bet it will be slow." As I walked towards the building, I noticed one of the nets hadn't been put up yet. I thought it strange, but figured with the construction, maybe they weren't putting all the nets up.

Larry passed me and said, "They just radioed, there are eight birds in the orchard nets. There's one over there too." I said I would put my stuff down and start helping. Inside, the other volunteers were furiously looking up small flycatcher identifications, and there were already about six bags with birds hanging waiting their turn to be processed (from a quick glance the bags had warblers, vireos, a red-breasted nuthatch, and some sort of small flycatchers). Yikes!

From there it was just a blur. At one point I was at a net with one of the Carpenter naturalists. There were four birds in the net. While we were trying to get them out, four more flew in, and then another two. We decided that it was so backed up in processing that we would close up the nets until we were caught up. By the time we got to the last net, eight birds had flown in. We were running out of bags, but fortunately, they were all mostly goldfinches and we could put more than one in a bag.

This is one of the juvenile chipping sparrows we got in--they don't quite look like the adults, about the only thing that really gives them away is the eye stripe and the chipping noise that the make as you untangle them from the nets. We did get in a rather exciting adult--it had a band and turns out that it was banded for the first time on June 17, 2005 and at the time of banding it was already an after hatch year bird, which means that by now it is well over three years old!

This young catbird looks like it is off to a rough start. First, notice all the pin feathers--it's just growing in its cap. But towards the back of the head, its missing some feather and skin--something poked it, hard. Was it a nest mate? Was it a blue jay trying to attach the young in the nest? Who can say. It reminded me of the red-headed woodpecker we got in last year.

And it's interesting to note how different birds feel in the hand. Above is a male Wilson's warbler that I got out of the net. He felt so tiny, like I would break him. The easiest way to get birds out is to grab the feet and untangle those. Most of the time, if you can get the feet out, you can get the rest of the bird fairly easily. Most of the time.

Volunteer Dennis Donath go this photo of a female Wilson's warbler (note the lack of black cap). Today was good practice for untangling birds from the net, I just kept doing the over and over. The goal is to get birds out quickly. Usually, when a bird is REALLY tangled, I defer to the more experienced banders to get the bird out. However, everyone was so busy today, that a coupe of times I found that I was the only option and just had to muddle through. Sometimes, when I'm trying to get out a really tangled bird, I panic. My hands start to shake uncontrollably and are completely useless. When that happens, I just have to let go, take a step back, take a few deep breaths, understand that my panic is not going to help the situation and then go back to the task at hand.

Above, Jim Fox is handing a Wilson's warbler to a young girl whose family came to visit today. Sometimes, you can place a warbler on its back and it will lay there for a moment before flying away. That gives the kid holding it a chance to marvel at the magic of the the little thing in their hands. I got a five second video. Note the little girl's face.

Tell me that she's not now hooked on birds.

I'm still kind of learning the ropes at banding. I'm now to the point where I can actually band a few birds. I insisted that the first practice birds be ones like cowbirds--let me mess up on a cowbird, not a warbler. But I'm to the point that today, when I got an ovenbird out of the net, I got to band it myself--WHOOT!

First, let me say that after handling other warblers from the nets, the ovenbird is much chunkier. That is one beefy warbler--very chunky. You don't really get a chance to notice that when their flitting about in the wild. I'm happy to report that I banded it, aged it (after hatch year--at least a year old) and sexed it (unknown). We got some photos and let it continue on its southward journey.

Today was the first day of sun after six days of non stop clouds and rain. I finally noticed that migration in Minnesota is sincerely underway. If you have a chance, get out and enjoy it while you can.

What A Great Day!

I found a new pair of Keens on sale, got a fabulous haircut AND we now know where the green-tailed towhee came from!

The above photo was taken by Dave Cahlander in early January 2007 in Mountain Lake, MN. He sent an email yesterday saying:

"With the help of photos taken by Steve Roman, we now have a complete band number for the Green-tailed Towhee. 8051-98299 I've submitted this to the bird banding lab, but they don't have a record of this band being used. I'll check with them in a day or two and report any information that they have."

And then today Terry Brashear found that the Mountain Lake Green-tailed Towhee was banded at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada on June 10, 2006.

According to Jon McCracken of the Bird Banding Lab:

"Yes, incredibly enough this is the bird that John Woodcock banded at TCBO on 10 June/06. It was an after second year male (wings = 78mm; weight = 29.0g; fat =trace) captured in the Heligoland Trap. Wow! It would be great to get all the details (incl location) on the MN sighting. Even if it didn't venture very far, it'd make a great "latest news" blurb.

Here is a photo of the exact same towhee taken by John Woodcock, the day he banded him June 10, 2006 in Thunder Bay! You can read the note about this bird at here.

This is the bird banding equivalent of winning the lottery. It's not often you trap and band a bird and find it again still alive and still traveling. To have it be so out of range and a rarity for Canada and Minnesota is very exciting. We have an idea of his sex and age--this is not just a young bird who got lost or has crossed wires. This bird has been around the block and is at least three years old. Where else has he been?

I'm so grateful for all the banders and photographers involved to get to the bottom of this very cool bird mystery...although, now I wonder...where was it hatched?

Okay, now I seriously have to pack for Atlanta, I'm leaving tomorrow morning.

Green-tailed Towhee Banding Mystery

Bird-wise we got totally nooged at Carpenter today. The traps were birdless, although there was some excitement over a Townsend's Solitaire that was found on the trail. We went to go look for it, but did not find it. Although, I was rewarded with a view of a gorgeous gully (above) that I've never noticed at Carpenter. I tend to hang at the banding station and today made a mental note to take a walk on the trails more often.

Fortunately, we have a very sweet banding mystery to chew on. We've had a rare bird show up in Mountain Lake in Cottonwood County--a green-tailed towhee (a western species not typically found in Minnesota). The photo above was taken by Dave Cahlander and if you look at the leg, you can see that the towhee is banded. Dave is one heck of a photog, and he even tried to photograph the band! No one in Minnesota is claiming to have banded the towhee, so where did it come from? Dave said, "It looks like the numbers are 8051 ?8299, where I can't read the ? number."

He submitted the digits and photos to the BBL and here is a response from Danny Bystrak,
Wildlife Biologist at BBL:

"... It is one of the more fascinating reports I've ever seen here, but so far, I have not made any progress in finding the bander. The problem is that, assuming the 8051 is correct (which it seems to be) and the ?8299 is correct (which it also seems to be), all the possible numbers for the ? are accounted for except two. One of the two was issued to a bander in S.D. who has never banded a Green-tailed Towhee, and the other was issued to a bander in Canada. If it was banded in Canada, the banding record is as far out of range as the sighting!

I will check with the Canadian Banding Office to see who it was issued to, but it is starting to look like maybe the above numbers may not be correct. "

More pictures would be great, if there's any chance we could get that missing number in the picture. "

Where did this bird come from? Anyone out there reading this in Canada banded a green-tailed towhee? I love a good banding mystery!

**There's been an update to the towhee and we now know where it was banded. Check the blog entry for January 10, 2007.

Getting Some Work Done At Carpenter

Stopped in to watch the Friday morning banding at Carpenter Nature Center this morning. I haven't been able to go for a few weeks and I was glad to hang with the guys again. I was able to get two birds with one stone (so to speak) since I took the Wingscapes Camera with me to test out. For the moment, those photos go on their blog.

It started out as a slow morning. It was about ten degrees but we didn't have any snow. With it being that cold, we didn't put up any nets, but set out potters traps.


A squirrel managed to find its way into one of the traps. Ooops! It was very perplexed and alarmed--as were the banders. Some birds can be a little nippy when they are in the hand, imagine what a squirrel can do. Larry got a stick and opened the trap and the squirrel scampered to freedom unbanded.


We did get in quite a few black-capped chickadees. One very exciting bird already had a band and turned out to have been banded in 2002! This tiny guy lasting close to five years in the wild--amazing. By the way, is it me or does this bird's bill look a little big for a chickadee? I can't tell if I'm getting overly paranoid about birds with overgrown bills or if it's normal.


Juncoes were busting out all over. I love dark-eyed juncos, they kind of remind me of little penguins. Something interesting at Carpenter is that they bait all of their traps with black oil sunflower seeds and the juncos still go in. Working at a bird store and with personal experience, I have always found these guys love white millet, sunflower hearts and Nyjer and not black oilers. I wonder if they are actually cracking open the sunflower or if they see seed and just check it out?


There was a minor junco tragedy. When the guys went out to check all the traps, a sharp-shinned hawk was flushed and left behind a freshly killed junco. The bird was banded, so this was one of the few times when a dead bird could be fully documented we have an idea of where its life ended and how old it was. I think this bird was in its second year. Don't worry raptor enthusiasts, the dead junco was put back outside and the sharpie did return for it.

Retrapping Banded Birds

So, why is this bird so exciting? What is this bird's id? If you don't know the id, they eyes of this bird should be a hint--note the red eyes. Now is it clicking in? It's a red-eyed vireo. And this particular vireo was in the blog not too long ago!

This bird was banded at Carpenter Nature Center on May 26 and had its photo in the blog May 29th. I was told that the same vireo was netted again at Carpenter in June while I was away, and now here it showed up for a third time in the nets on July 7th. Every now and then I meet people are against banding birds, that it is too cruel and that banders are traumatizing and scarring these birds for life if not out right killing them. If that's the case, why is this vireo showing up in the nets once a month? This bird has made an informed decision about where to set up it's territory. The nets are set up in the same spots when birds are banded, if the bird was so traumatized the first time it was banded, it would have gotten the heck out of dodge and set up a nesting territory elsewhere. At the very least it would have avoided the area where the nets are. And this vireo isn't the only retrap, many species end up being retrapped at Carpenter, it's a helpful tool in determining how long certain birds live in the wild. I'm not saying that a bird's favorite activity in life is to be handled by humans and to be banded, but birds are not as traumatized by it as some would believe. Think about what a bird goes through on a day to day basis: constantly on the lookout for Cooper's hawks, foxes, cats, snakes, never knowing where that next meal is coming from for sure, defending it's territory--violently if necessary from rivals or other species, sitting out storms, getting up and doing it's job every single day--regardless of how it feels--now that's a work ethic. Birds are hardy, tough, resilient creatures. Five minutes of banding is not going to wreck them for the rest of their life. It certainly does far less damage than someone who finds a young bird of prey and feeds it only hamburger and chicken breasts or a young robin and feeds it only bread and milk.

Since the vireo had posed so nicely with a song sparrow in May, I tried photographing it with a nuthatch for comparison this time. Nuh-uh, that nuthatch was not going to have any of that. The nuthatch trashed and snapped and made such strange catcalls that we decided to let it go. When both birds came in the nets, they were fairly low to the ground--the vireo surprised me, that's a bird I tend to associate with the tops of trees and here it had flown into the net only three feet from the ground and about the same time as the nuthatch--hm, I wonder if they were chasing each other?

I was the one who got the white-breasted nuthatch out of the net. I had to stifle my chuckles while I removed her. First she did her caterwauling, but then she started doing that usual nasally nuthatch "her her". I could feel her body vibrate in my hand while she made her yanking calls. Very cool.

Other birds we got in the nets today included a very tiny house wren--we had heard a winter wren that morning and were hoping for one, but got the boisterous house wren instead. It's so hard to believe this tiny guys make such a loud call.

We also got in SEVERAL recently fledged red-winged black birds. The young blackbird pictured above was so fresh from the nest you could still see the edges of the gape that baby birds have.

On a side note, Non Birding Bill just informed me that the Disapproving Rabbits pages are getting more traffic than the blog...Cinnamon is demanding an increase in her parsley allowance and is threatening to hire an agent if we don't comply.