Back in Action

Hi friends!!

Man, it’s been a while. My last post covered highlights from the last banding day of the first season of WVWA’s MAPS  station and now, we’re just DAYS from the start of the second.

Which is why my resting heart rate has gone from 45 to 107.

This is a phenomenon known as “Pre-banding Tachycardia,” (PBT) a physiological state not yet accepted by the medical community, but which I believe effects 4 in 4 banders.

The closeness of the start of the MAPS season is not the only thing that has brought on my PBT, however – I actually started banding a bit last week at nest boxes along WVWA’s monitoring trail. So this year, the excitement started early. 🙂

Time for a little background, perhaps.

You may know that populations of some cavity nesting birds have declined in recent decades, mostly due to habitat loss and competition with non-native species (I’m looking at you, European starlings and house sparrows). Eastern bluebirds took a particularly bad hit. They and other species have specific requirements for nesting, and when changes to land use occur and dead trees are cleared, not only do they lose their places to live and raise young, but starling and house sparrow populations are more likely to move in and compete with them for resources.

People realized this unfortunate truth and started making and installing nest boxes in the early 1930s – with a more national, concerted effort starting in about the mid-1950s, bluebird populations began to rise again.

BUT they still need our help.

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The adult male bringing a tasty caterpillar to his young at Crossways Preserve (circa 2015).

A primary goal of our management of WVWA lands is to increase wildlife habitat, including nesting space, a resource in itself. So, since 2015 we’ve been putting out nest boxes and now have a monitoring trail that includes boxes at Crossways, Armentrout, and Willow Lake Farm Preserves. They are monitored by some very awesome, reliable, and dedicated volunteers. Who send me exciting updates and great pictures, like these:

Carolina chickadee eggs… (photo by Jack and Ali Feldman).
…and nestlings. They only look weird like this for about a week. After that, around day 8-9, they begin to develop feathers and stop looking like creepy  little aliens. (photo by Jack and Ali Feldman)
Last year’s bluebird chicks. What a strange life, when you live in a box and people open it to stare at you.

Monitoring the boxes provides us with an excellent opportunity to collect valuable data on our resident birds and to track their population trends. Plus, the data we collect will be entered online at the end of the season through NestWatch, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science project, and can then be used in conjunction with information collected nationwide.

Now, as you already know from my ramblings, banding birds adds greatly to our data on their populations. So naturally, it follows that all the nestlings should be banded. RIGHT? Right.

And thus, the early onset of my PBT.

So far this season, three nests have been banded – two chickadee and one bluebird. Banding nestlings is pretty simple, and far less complicated than banding adult birds. They don’t have to be aged based on almost-invisible differences in feather quality and wear, and with the exception of some young bluebirds, you can’t yet determine their sex. All that’s involved is carefully taking them out of the box, weighing and banding each, and gently returning them.

Here are some shots of chickadee banding from last week:

Six nestlings, cozily packed together in their country home at Willow Lake Farm.
This guy/girl is about 10 days old. At this age, the nestling’s legs are already fully grown, so it’s safe to band them. Even though it looks COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS.
The rest of their bodies, however, will take several more days to develop. At this age, the feathers are only just beginning to emerge from their protective keratin sheathes. During development, each feather is nourished by a blood supply that runs from the feather’s base up the length of its shaft. Once the feather is fully formed, that blood supply will recede.
The best photo I have ever taken.

It’s always a good idea to be careful when opening nest boxes, and to proceed with slow movements.

Like, really.

Because when I started to cautiously open the next nest box (say that five times fast), I caught a glimpse not of nestlings inside, but of the shadowed form of an adult bird, peering at me from atop said nestlings. She didn’t flush, so I managed to slip my hand in and get a secure hold of her (I’m stealthy like that).

A pleasant surprise
Here’s a great example of a receding brood patch on a nesting bird. Only recently, this area was heavily vascularized to allow the female to transfer more heat more effectively to her eggs during incubation, as well as to keep her young nestlings warm. Since she no longer needs to worry about either of these things, the patch has begun to return to its normal state. Soon, she’ll start regrowing feathers.
Super relaxed, ‘cuz that’s how chickadees roll.

All in all, ’twas a good day of nest box banding. 🙂

There’s more to tell about this and another exciting side project with our nesting bluebirds… but perhaps I’ll let the suspense build a little, and save that for next time.


Happy birding!



One thought on “Back in Action

  1. Welcome back! I’m looking forward to the interesting and entertaining text and the wonderful photos you post.


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