MAPS Banding: Day 2

Last Thursday marked the second day of banding for WVWA’s MAPS station. With cool temperatures, a fair amount of cloud cover, and little wind, the conditions were nearly perfect for mist-netting.

But perhaps more essential to success was the fact that I brought munchkins.

dunkin

How could it not be a great day?!

Our numbers were very similar to the first time around, with 28 birds caught across 11 species (that’s one more bird and one more species than last time! Hooray!). And while it’s always great to catch new birds, this time it was also fun to catch a few that were banded during the last session.

Old friends, you might call them. 🙂

Here’s what we caught:

Species New Recaps
American Goldfinch 1
Carolina Chickadee 2
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged blackbird 1
Gray Catbird 6 4
Wood Thrush 0 2
Song Sparrow 3 1
House Finch 1
Tufted Titmouse 1
American Robin 2
Barn Swallow 1
Total 21 7

The Brown Thrashers and Common Yellowthroats may have eluded us this time, but we had three new species that were not caught before: American Goldfinch, House Finch, and *prepare yourself* Barn Swallow. After getting used to seeing mostly Catbirds and Song Sparrows, finding something new in the net is a magical thing. And a Barn Swallow?!

WEEK. MADE.

Alright enough excitement. Time for pictures.

A female Northern Cardinal. Though far duller and more brown in coloration than males, female Cardinals are equally beautiful for the subtlety and range of tones in their plumage.
Here’s one of our three female Northern Cardinals for the day. Though far duller and browner in coloration than males, female Cardinals are equally beautiful for the range of  hues in their plumage; the next time you see one of these easily over-looked backyard birds, take note of her sandy beige, steely grey, and dusky rose-toned feathers.
Northern Cardinals are among the few North American species in which the females sing as well as the males. They do so only during the breeding season, while on the nest - likely to communicate to males about when to bring some food by.
Northern Cardinals are among the few North American species in which both sexes sing – female Cardinals do so during the breeding season while on the nest, likely to communicate feeding needs to their mates. Probably something like, “RANDY PLEASE BRING ME SEEDS OR I WILL ABANDON YOUR UNBORN CHILDREN OK THANKS.” Then he will bring her a seed or two, practicing what is known as  “mate-feeding,” helping to build a bond between the pair and showing her that, when they hatch, he will take good care of their young. 
Cardinals can undergo a complete preformative molt, meaning that unless you see a molt limit, you cannot definitely know the bird's age (since all the feathers would be the same age in both SY and ASY birds). But if you DO see a limit, like in this female's secondary flight feathers, you can safely say it is a Second Year bird, hatched last breeding season.
Hatching Year (HY) Cardinals undergo what is known as a presupplemental (PS) molt, replacing all body feathers once from June to September. They then replace those feathers yet again, as well as some, or all (an important differentiation), flight feathers during the preformative (PF) molt, from July through November.  During the same time period,  adult Cardinals similarly replace all body and flight feathers during complete prebasic molts. For that reason, it is impossible to definitively age a bird if its feathers are of the same generation. But if you DO see a molt limit in the spring, like in this female’s wing, you can safely say call it an SY bird (meaning that it hatched the previous breeding season). Look closely, and you can see the difference between her juvenal feathers (browner and more ragged), and her formative feathers (redder, fresher, and more tightly-barbed).
If you see a streaky brown bird, flying low through the brush while pumping its tail, or up on a perch singing in the open, you are likely seeing a Song Sparrow. As sparrows go, this species has a fairly thick and short bill, and a rounder head. Look for the diagnostic dark patch right in the center of the chest.
If you see a streaky brown bird flying low through the brush while pumping its tail, or singing on a perch out in the open, you are likely seeing one of these guys – a Song Sparrow. As sparrows go, this species has a fairly thick, short bill, and round head.
If you're not sure you're seeing a Song Sparrow, look for the diagnostic a dark patch right in the center of the bird's chest: it is very diagnostic for this species.
If you still aren’t sure what you’re seeing (because let’s face it… sparrows), look for a dark patch right in the center of the bird’s chest, which is diagnostic for this species.
A female House Finch, one of our 3 new species for the station. These birds are actually a recent introduction from western North America - they were captured in California by pet dealers, who then released them on Long Island, NY, in 1940 (so as not to be arrested...). The species then spread throughout the east.
A female House Finch, one of our new species for the station. House Finches have a scandalous history… originally they were only found in the west, but in the 1900s they were illegally captured in California by pet dealers and imported to the east. Following passage of the Migratory Bird Act and other similar legislation, pet shop owners became nervous of prosecution and released their captive House Finches on Long Island, NY in 1940. The species has since spread throughout the east. Nice job guys, nice job.
Ah look, another Catbird.
Ah look, another Gray Catbird. Who would ever get sick of them?! Not me. They can teach us many things.
Here’s a great shot of a female Catbird in breeding condition. Female birds lose their belly feathers prior to beginning incubation, the result of which is an exposed patch of skin called a
Here’s a shot of a female in breeding condition. Female birds lose their belly feathers prior to beginning incubation, the result of which is an exposed patch of skin called a “brood patch.” Why lose the feathers in order to incubate? Because one of their main functions is to insulate the bird – losing them means the female can now transfer her body heat to the eggs much more effectively, and they need that heat to begin maturing. The brood patch also develops extra vessels to bring even more blood near the skin’s surface and, therefore, even more heat. To check for a brood patch, the bird’s feathers are gently blown aside, allowing for a good look at the belly, as pictured here.
And they provide perfect examples of molt limits in the greater coverts.
And Catbirds can provide perfect examples of molt limits within the greater coverts (gr covs). This individual has replaced the four on the left, and retained the four on the right, following the typical pattern of this species’ prefomative molt (which makes this a Second Year bird). 
Volunteer and future Master Naturalist, Kristy Morley, with a mystery species (not).
Volunteer and future PA Master Naturalist, Kristy Morley, holding an antsy female.
They are just so much fun.
Taking revenge? Or just sad to part ways? It’s hard to say.
Our first Tufted Titmouse. There is more to these small gray birds than meets the eye - they are perhaps one of the most daring species, pulling the fur from living animals, from squirrels, woodchucks, and rabbits, to pets and - get this - humans, to use in lining their nests. They mate for life, and use the nest cavities of woodpeckers, since they cannot excavate nest holes themselves.
Our first Tufted Titmouse! There is more to these small gray birds than meets the eye. Perhaps one of the most daring species, Titmice pull the fur from living animals, including squirrels, woodchucks, rabbits, pets, and – get this – humans, to use as lining in their nests. Pretty bold, no?
All of that confidence comes, of course, from having excellent mohawks.
Of course, all of that confidence comes from having excellent mohawks.

To break up the day around mid-morning (always welcome), we had a visit from WVWA’s Trail Stewards, Gwen and Steve Bryant. As the Trail Stewards for Crossways Preserve, Gwen and Steve volunteer their time and often walk the trails at Crossways, pruning and keeping things in shipshape, and letting us know of anything that needs attention (for more info on our Trail Stewards program, click here). They also monitored the Bluebird nest boxes we have on the preserve, checking them weekly (the nestlings from one box have recently successfully fledged!).

Gwen, holding her first bird ever!
Gwen, holding her first bird ever.
And Steve holding his! A nice, calm Wood Thrush. :)
And Steve, holding his – a lovely Wood Thrush.

And here is probably – wait, what am I saying?! – definitely the best capture of the day: a vibrantly-colored Barn Swallow!!

Simply awesome.
Simply awesome.
Opening its shiny new band with very excited hands.
Opening its shiny new band. You’re looking at some pretty ecstatic hands right there.
IMG_20150604_094200108
Taking her wing measurement – an impressive 112mm.
Barn Swallows are also a little more complicated in terms of again - or, more fun. I took a few extra measurements to confirm her age (AHY).
Barn Swallows are also a little more fun to process – you can take a few tail measurements to help confirm their age and sex.
And referenced the Pyle Guide, of course, which has a lot of info about the variation in this species tail, as it relates to age.
The Pyle Guide, of course, provides all the necessary information about what the extent of tail-forked-ness means. Based on this bird’s wing length, tail measurements, and the presence of a brood patch (which must be trusted with caution, since males can sometimes incubate as well),  it was an AHY female. She did have somewhat more orange coloration on the breast and sides than many females of this species, which gave me pause, but a male would have a longer wing, more deeply-forked tail, and even rustier underparts.
IMG_20150604_094406390
THE BEST.
And finally, a lovely  and photogenic female goldfinch.
And finally, a lovely and photogenic female goldfinch.
As mentioned before, this species undergoes a prealternate molt and, therefore, SY birds can have three generations of feathers. It may be difficult to see in this photo, but that was the case with this bird. Perhaps the most useful characteristic to look for when aging this species, however, is the tip of the carpal covert - if it's buffy, then you can safely age the bird as an SY. If there is no tip (or a very crisp-looking, white tip), then you can almost always go ASY.
As mentioned before, this species undergoes a prealternate molt and, therefore, SY birds can have three generations of feathers. It may be difficult to see in this photo, but that was the case with this bird. Perhaps the most useful characteristic to look for when aging this species, however, is the tip of the carpal covert (shown) – if it’s buffy, then you can safely age the bird as an SY. If there is no tip (or a very crisp-looking, white tip), then you can almost always go ASY.
Her poise also suggested a level of maturity attained only by After Second Year birds.
Her poise belied a level of maturity attained only by After Second Year birds… but her carpal covert and replaced feathers gave her away in the end.

And so another successful day of banding had come to a close. 🙂

Hopefully this week we’ll catch the Eastern Towhees, Yellow Warblers, and male Red-winged Blackbirds that have been taunting us from every corner of the station! Fingers crossed.

Stay tuned for highlights from our next session.

Happy birding!

Margaret

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