2017 Season Recap
The 2017 bird banding season has come to a close, marking yet another year of avian research conducted at the Bird Observatory! The Trust’s avian technicians and experienced volunteers safely captured and banded 235 birds compromising 39 different species. Over 160 public visitors were also shuttled out to the Bird Observatory to experience active bird research deep in the Tennessee River Gorge. For information about visiting the Bird Observatory, see: http://www.trgt.org/birdvisit.
A view of the Bird Observatory property in the heart of the TN River Gorge
Why We Band Birds?
At the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, we aspire to understand how organisms interact with the lands we work to protect. The Trust has chosen a few specific areas of study within the environmental science arena to run with. We regularly conduct research on resident and migratory bird species that rely on the Gorge for essential habitat, as well as test water quality in the tributary streams and carry out herpetological surveys. Our bird research is based out of the Bird Observatory, the avian research extension of the Trust. At the Bird Observatory, we conduct basic inventory research through seasonal bird banding. In addition to the data gleaned from the research, our bird banding activities serve as an interactive tool for community members to learn about the fascinating world of interacting organisms living among us. The research gives the community a glimpse into the lives of these creatures, and exposes citizens to many bird species that are only locally found during migration. Beyond learning about birds, the work also exposes visitors to concepts of wildlife conservation and how researchers obtain data to inform management decisions.
Avian and Research Technician, Eliot Berz, teaching a young group about bird migration.
How we band birds
Once a month, and twice a month during migration, the Trust’s team of avian technicians and experienced volunteers venture to the middle of the Tennessee River Gorge to conduct 3 days of bird banding research while camping onsite. It all takes place at our Bird Observatory facility, an outdoor research laboratory equipped with a screened in lab, two cabins, a composting privy, shower structure, and camping platforms. Each morning, just before the first traces of sunlight emerge, the team hikes up two sets of banding trails to open the 20 mist nets (i.e., a very fine, 16-meter net strung up between two stationary poles used to safely capture birds). After opening the nets, the team plans for the day as they eagerly wait for the first net run. Each net run is spaced out by 30-45 minute intervals depending on weather conditions to ensure the birds are not harmed. The abrupt ringing of an alarm signals it's time to check the nets for captured birds. The banders approach every net with utmost attentiveness while inspecting to see what beguiling species may have flown in this time. As most wildlife related activities go, bird banding can be redundantly hit or miss. Some days, the group may catch fewer than 5 birds, but then nearly 100 birds may be captured and banded the next day. There are multiple factors that play a role in this inconsistency, such as migration, weather conditions, etc.
The banding team prepping the Bird Lab before sunrise.
All captured birds are safely extracted from the net and sent back to the lab where a federally issued metal band with a distinct numerical code is placed on the birds’ legs. The bands remain on the birds indefinitely and can be used to identify the individual if it is recaptured at a later date, yielding data on the birds’ survival, physical changes, or dispersal. The banders also take various measurements and examine the birds’ physical condition upon capture (e.g., body mass, sex, age, feather molting). All data is recorded and then submitted to the Bird Banding Laboratory to contribute to the growing information on the full life-cycles of birds. This data can be used to answer important research questions concerning the population trends of a specific species, feeding and behavior, habitat requirements, migration, etc. The Trust can also use this data to help identify local trends in bird populations and conditions in the Gorge, which can indicate details about broader environmental health or help expose a degrading land-use adversely affecting the species’ presence.
Executive Director, Rick Huffines, showing off a Tufted Titmouse to a curious visitor
Some Notable Catches: Bay-breasted Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Canada Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and many Wood Thrush.