A little over a year ago, I shared my observation of a hummingbird banding operation. This year I watched the banding of songbirds and raptors, another project conducted by the Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO), an academic research and outreach program of Boise State University.
The day began with an early morning meetup at Hilltop, 15 miles east of Boise. About 20 folks between the ages of 8 and 80 boarded newly leased vans for the half-hour drive up a steep and bumpy road to the field station at the top of Lucky Peak. (For those of you locals who don’t know, the reservoir was named for the peak, not the other way around. ;D) Between April and October the station is occupied by professional and student researchers and volunteers, many of whom camp out, enjoying the starry summer skies of Idaho and avoiding treacherous trips on the nasty dirt road in the dark.
Upon arrival we were immediately thrust into the buzz of trapping, evaluating and recording, banding, and freeing songbirds. Beginning at sunrise, every 30 minutes, runners check 10 nets strategically located around the mountain. Although the researchers swear no birds are harmed, the trapping process is disturbing. The bird’s arrested flight leaves them dangling in precarious looking positions on the net, however, once the wings of a bird are ensnared, they usually cease to struggle. The staff and volunteers ever-so-gently grasp the birds and patiently untangle them from the hair-net-fine strands of the trap. Each bird is placed in a cotton bag, identified as to which net and where in the net it was found, and firmly clothes-pinned to the handler until all the nets have been checked. Then they are brought to the banding and measuring station in the heart of the camp.
One at a time, the birds are tenderly removed from their cloth bags, examined for species, sex, age, and condition. All the data is recorded along with the number on the band that will be placed on the leg of the bird, becoming it’s permanent ID.
The birds are rockstars to these enthusiastic young researchers. The excitement is palpable with each new batch of birds, as they exclaim over rare finds and banter over minor disagreements in the assessment of body fat, sex, or sometimes even species.
Once a bird has been duly measured, weighed, banded, and immortalized in the record book, it is released back to the protection of the forest canopy.
The IBO field station here on Lucky Peak is uniquely positioned at the intersection of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin and Range ecosystems. Traveling birds hover here under cover of the Douglas fir forest, feeding, storing fat, and waiting for optimal weather conditions before commencing the long flight across the harsh and exposed Basin Range portion of their journey. The song birds clustered at the edge of the forest attract predatory raptors which the IBO also traps, bands, and studies. I will cover that topic in my next post.