2016 MAPS Banding: Day 2


The second banding day was a little slow, with just 15 birds. But the weather was beautiful! And we enjoyed a visit from a birding class with Morris Arboretum’s Continuing Education Program. Plus, we caught some very cool birds and yet another new species.

We’re on a roll.

Here are the totals:

Species New Recap Total
Eastern Wood-peewee 0 2 2
Barn Swallow 2 0 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 0 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 0 1
Song Sparrow 0 2 2
Gray Catbird 2 0 2
American Robin 1 0 1
Wood Thrush 1 0 1
Northern Cardinal 1 1 2
Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker 1 0 1
Total 10 5 15

You know what?! Let’s just dive right in with some photo highlights. 🙂

First off… barn swallows!! The most abundant swallow in North America – spend a few minutes looking out over a meadow, field, or body of water, and you’ll likely see these aerial insectivores swooping around gracefully. They are very net wary, however, so it’s pretty exciting to catch them (we caught just one female last year).

Interestingly, they had flown into the net from opposite directions. Probably because they were being territorial, as they are inclined to be, and were in the middle of flying at each other’s faces when the net got in the way.

They seemed to be at peace with one another once caught, though.

Adversity brings people together.

Barn swallow can be sexed based on coloration – males have a more deeply-toned rust color on their foreheads than do females, and rustier chests and bellies. Overall, they simply look more striking (but please don’t tell the females I said that).
It only takes a glance to distinguish them from other swallows, like tree or rough-wingeds, even in flight and poor lighting, since they are the only species with such deeply forked tails.
In the spring/summer, they are impossible to age more specifically than after hatching year, since as juveniles they can do a complete molt and replace all their body, flight, and tail feathers – just as adult birds would do. To help be sure of the bird’s age, though, a tail measurement can also be taken (and it’s always good to do it anyway because it’s fun, heh). This is a measure of the distance between r6, the outer tail feather (or retrix) and r1, the innermost tail feather. Basically, it’s a measure of how deeply forked the tail is. AHY/ASY tails are more deeply forked than HY/SY birds.

Despite not catching too many birds, the day felt like it went by quickly.

Probably because I was talking a lot.
We caught two Eastern Wood -peewees, which were first banded last year. Yay recaps! At that time, both were aged AHY since…
…Pyle, the Identification Guide to North American Birds, which tell us where to look for molt limits in different species, literally has question marks in place of a percentage for the likelihood that Peewees can accurately be aged at this time of year.
Because we know that we banded them last year and they were NOT hatch year birds (we double checked with last year’s data sheets), we were able to say definitively that they are now ASY birds. And with that information in mind, it was nice to really take in the appearance of the wing and tail feathers – which, by the way, matched Pyle’s account of an ASY wing.
Every so often we catch a bird with something a little… off, like this Gray Catbird. This kind of bill deformity doesn’t have an exact known cause. Research has pointed to several possible reasons it can happen, including disease, parasites, a nutrient deficiency during development, genetic defects, and in some cases, exposure to a contaminant or even conditions of extreme heat. Life can be hard for birds.
Our new species for the day (which we caught, in the typical fashion, right after the group had left), Northern flicker. Talk about a noisy, flappy, overly-dramatic handful of bird. 
The molt strategies of birds within Picidae, the woodpecker family, are a little more complicated to age than others – both younger and older birds can have molt limits, but they vary in where the limit occurs and in how many generations of feathers are present. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around. I aged it as a SY, and double checked with more woodpecker-experienced and ever-wise banders (you know who you are ;)). 
Woodpeckers always necessitate Pyle consultations.

In woodpeckers, juveniles often begin flight-feather replacement before they even leave the nest, and can replace a variable number of secondaries and greater coverts. While it might be a little hard to tell from the photos, this bird replaced its primaries, several greater coverts (more than most Northern Flickers would during their pre-formative molt, actually), no primary coverts, and judging by their wear, no secondaries. These characteristics point to a Second Year bird.

The primary coverts may be the most reliable and useful characteristic – in HY/SY birds, there will be only one generation of juvenile feathers, in SY/TY birds, there are usually both juvenile and formative feathers (outer 1-5 pp covs will be replaced, typically), and in ASY/ATY birds, there is either complete replacement of primary coverts leading to no presence of a molt limit, or replacement of some feathers. The key thing, then, is that the replacement pattern will be different than in an SY/TY bird in that it is not symetrical, and that it may result in three generations of feathers.

Can you see how this might be a little mentally taxing? Especially when you woke up at 3:45 and have been standing in the sun squinting at feathers for FIVE. HOURS.

But every bird is a puzzle, and every feather is just a piece you have to place so that it makes sense and doesn’t look like a blind hamster put it together.


This was a female flicker, since she lacked the malar stripe (or, mustache) characteristic of males.
And check out her undertail coverts… this is one of the COOLEST things about Northern Flickers – the dark spots on each feather are shaped like hearts!! Can you even? I can’t.
This song sparrow was our other fun catch. Not because it was a song sparrow (as much as I love them) but because this guy was the very FIRST bird banded at Crossways last season. His band number ends in 601 (which for some reason totally stuck in my mind). 
He had the most truncate, glossy, dark-toned primary coverts you’ll ever see in a song sparrow. Hopefully we’ll catch him for years to come! And all his children. And all his children’s children. 

I think that about wraps it up. We’ve had two more banding days, and MORE new species, (if you can believe it) so I’ll be putting those highlights up soon!

Happy birding,





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