2016 MAPS Banding: Day 1

Last Thursday was the (long-awaited) first day of the 2016 MAPS banding season!

The sun rising at Crossways Preserve (photo by Ian Brehm)

The first session was pretty fantastic – we beat last year’s total number of birds caught on the first day by 6, and the total number of species caught by 1.

I’d say we’re off to a good start.


Here are the totals:

Species New Recap Total
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 0 1
Common Yellowthroat 2 0 2
American Goldfinch 2 0 2
Tufted Titmouse 1 0 1
Song Sparrow 2 1 3
Gray Catbird 6 1 7
American Robin 8 1 9
Northern Mockingbird 1 0 1
Blue Jay 1 0 1
Northern Cardinal 4 1 5
Great-crested Flycatcher 1 0 1
Total 29 4 33

Mostly, it was our regulars who came around – catbirds, robins, cardinals – but we also had two new and super exciting species (which you may have noticed, and which I’ll get to soon, I promise).

Besides the new birds, what else made it a fantastic first day?!  We have a wagon!! Which means that gone are the days of plodding down the trail, bearing the unwieldy burden of an equipment-filled plastic storage tub.


WVWA Stewardship Intern, Kristy Morley, in early morning wagon bliss.

Alright, let’s get to some photo highlights!

First net check = one tufted titmouse, one common yellowthroat, and definitely more than one tick. (photo by Ian Brehm)
Not only do we now have a wagon to conveniently transport our many banding accoutrements, but we also have an umbrella this year to shade birds as they await banding. Plus, it has palm trees on it so like it blends in well.
This Common Yellowthroat probably had no idea how many calories are in her favorite Pringles. Nor did I. (photo by Ian Brehm)
Molt limits in Common Yellowthroats can be a little challenging (true of a lot of the greenish-plumaged birds). On this female, though, it was pretty easy to see that she had replaced all of her greater coverts and one alula feather (A1), but no primary coverts. This is based on differences in color, edging, and quality of the feathers, which can be quite subtle. If’n you look close at this photo, though, you can see these differences, and they mean she is a Second Year bird. (photo by Ian Brehm)
The majority of the species we catch are banded with size 1A or 1B bands – opening them (and anything larger than a size 1), takes using these pliers, which are specifically made for the job.
“The Last Unbanded Seconds” (photo by Ian Brehm)
A Second Year American Robin, as indicated by the incredibly blatant molt limit within its greater coverts. (photo by Ian Brehm)
Ah, here we have yet another fine molt limit. The brown, secondary flight feathers in this young male Northern Cardinal’s wing are the juvenile feathers he grew hastily in the nest. Since fewer resources were devoted to synthesizing these feathers (in order for him to grow them quickly and escape the dangerous nestling period), they also degrade faster than adult feathers. For that reason, and because they have also seen quite a bit more sun and general exposure to the elements than his newer, formative feathers grown months later, we can see this molt limit from across the room. (photo by Ian Brehm)
We only caught ONE Blue Jay at the station all of last year, and not until several weeks in, so it was pretty awesome to catch one on the first day (he was less excited, but still very accommodating). (photo by Ian Brehm)
TRIUMPH. (photo by Ian Brehm)

It’s not too often that you catch a pair of birds in the same net, but it certainly does happen, especially since males of many species tend to practice “mate guarding.” Mate guarding is exactly what is sounds like – male birds will literally follow the female they are paired with around while she forages, makes trips for nesting material, goes to Giant to pick up some thistle seeds, etc., to prevent her from coming into contact with another male.

Which is probably what led to this situation:

They were caught just a few feet from one another. FOR ONCE we remembered to get a nice side-by-side shot. American Goldfinches are a great example of a sexually dimorphic species, wherein males and females are easily differentiated by appearance, and generally males are showier than females. Non-sexually dimorphic species are virtually indistinguishable (think Gray Catbirds), and their sex can only be determined by breeding characteristics, like a brood patch. (photo by Ian Brehm)
This is one of the most perfect adult song sparrow wings I have ever beheld. The primary coverts are broad, glossy, darkly colored, and of high quality. All of the Second Year song sparrows out there should strive for this. (photo by Ian Brehm).

Ok, I think you have shown remarkable patience by reading all of this and not skipping ahead to see photos of our two new species. So, here you go:


That’s right, we caught a Great-Crested Flycatcher. Which doesn’t happen all that often. They are cavity nesters (which seems weird, doesn’t it?), and tend to stay very high up in the canopy, so to find one in the lower pocket of a net was an incredibly cool surprise.

STRANGE FACT: they use snake skins in their nest cavities, if they are available. And also other similarly textured scraps, like paper, cellophane, and… onion skins.

If they were humans, they’d definitely be into composting.

Males and females both elicit a “wee-eep!” call, which makes them hard to miss if they’re around. It’s sort of a loud, nasaly, whistley, ringing call that rises at the end (it kind of sounds like they suddenly came upon a most shocking seen, and couldn’t help but exclaim).

We had heard them at the beginning of last season, but they didn’t seem as conspicuous then as they have been this year. And yet, I didn’t really expect to catch one. But, that’s one of the BEST things about banding – you really never know what you’ll get.

Since the general view we have of these birds is of their undersides while looking up at them, it’s easy to miss out on seeing their rusty, ochre-toned flight and tail feathers.
Which in combination with their gorgeous, lemon-yellow bellies and charcoal gray heads and throats, makes for some truly striking plumage.
Like most fly-catching birds, Great-crested Flycatchers have extra-noticeable rictal bristles. These are the small, stiff feathers at the base of the bill, thought to help protect the bird’s eyes from insects.
Volunteer Caitlin Welsh, who was an *extremely* welcome pair of hands for our first day.

One cool new species down, one to go…

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher!! A female – a male of this species would have a black “V” on the forehead, extending over the eyes.
She was a Second Year bird, as evidenced by her molt limit. (photo by Ian Brehm)
And also by the fact that no self-respecting After Second Year Blue-gray Gnatcatcher would have so many brown feathers. No, they would have feathers that are uniformly… blue-gray.
These guys make some of the coolest nests. Using spider webs and lichens, they carefully shape them into perfect little cups that mimic the knots of tree branches. They re-use nest material, too, and since this saves them some time, they can build up to 7 nests in a single breeding season (should their first 6 nests fail for any reason). Their breeding range has been shifting north in recent years – by a shocking 200 miles – due, of course, to our shifting climate. (photo by Ian Brehm)

She was our last bird of the day, and we couldn’t have asked for more.


Banding day 2 was last Thursday, so come back soon for those highlights!

Happy birding,





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