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Bird Banding

One of AREI’s primary goals is to monitor populations of bird species while they are still relatively common, enabling cost-effective responses before a species becomes threatened or endangered. Like many other bird observatories, AREI was created to help reverse the decline in songbird species first recognized in the 1970′s.

Why should we care?

Many songbirds that nest in North America and winter south of the United States have declined significantly in recent decades, some by more than 90%.

Songbirds contribute to the health of our environment by controlling damaging insects. Some birds pollinate flowers and many help spread plant seeds. Furthermore, birds are highly valued by the public for aesthetic and economic reasons. More than 63 million people in the US watch birds for recreation while over 90 million feed birds – together spending more than $14 billion annually on these activities.

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Bird banding data are useful in both research and management projects. The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center maintains the bird banding laboratory for the United States. On their website you will find information on the history of bird banding, who bands birds, why band birds, how many birds are banded each year, bird markers, how to report a bird band as well as information specifically for bird banders.

Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth.

What do we do?

The banding of birds requires capturing and handling birds and is controlled under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and requires a federal banding permit. All bird banding at the AREI banding stations is done under the guidance of a Master Bird Bander and sub-permitees.

Our banding program uses 12 meter long by 2.6 meter high mist nets placed singly or in series in different vegetation zones and along habitat edges; mostly where the adjacent vegetation is not much higher than the nets themselves. The locations for most of the mists nets will change little over the years to maintain statistical relevance. At the Clifford Bird Observatory (CBO), most bird banding is done around a feeder system in a courtyard.

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Depending upon weather, mist nets are opened shortly before sunrise and closed midday, most days, year round. Birds captured in the nets are carefully removed on a frequent basis, placed in bags, and returned to a centrally located banding station. At the banding station, the birds are identified, banded (marked with uniquely numbered USGS aluminum leg band) or reprocessed, if they were banded previously, and information about their age, sex, wing length, fat deposits, body mass and other data are carefully recorded. Individual feathers are taken at this time for stable isotope and genetic studies. The whole process of collecting data for each captured bird takes less than a minute, after which the bird is released unharmed.

Our long-term migration studies at the Hueston Woods Biological Station (HWBS), the Miami University Bird Observatory (MUBO), and the Clifford Bird Observatory (CBO) provide a means for documenting changes in the abundance and productivity of songbirds in the Miami Valley. Since 2004, AREI staff and volunteers have banded and released more than 7500 birds of 108 species. Of these 7500 banded birds, we have recaptured over 1600 birds. Results from our research contribute to national databases for monitoring bird population trends and are presented to resource managers to facilitate regional conservation planning.

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Our banding stations also host hundreds of visitors each year. Among our visitors are school groups, retirement groups, community members, and folks seeking training in methods in field ornithology. Both high school classes and college classes have incorporated a visit to the banding stations into their curriculum. Bird banding gives one the opportunity to discuss conservation issues affecting avian species while holding a bird in your hand. It doesn’t get any better than that!