Bird banding: A pretty fly hobby
Published: Friday, November 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, November 1, 2013 01:11
On a frigid autumn morning in Hueston Woods, a bird leaped into the air, fleeing the hand of an examiner, and screeched its way back into the woods. The crowd around the table observed in awe before anxiously turning their attention back to the table where a team of Miami professors and students prepared to assess the next bird.
This is a typical morning bird-banding session at Miami University. The banding sessions commence every Tuesday and Thursday at dawn until early November. The event caters to Miami students but is open to the rest of the community.
“My wife and I started a non-profit bird-banding event in 1994 and this is our 10th field station at Hueston Woods,” Miami zoology professor David Russell said. Russel runs the program, which is now widely popular among students at Miami and other Oxford locals.
“We now have close to 1,000 visitors a year and have banded 115 bird species,” Russell said.
Bird banding is a unique and intriguing hobby at Miami. However, Russell and his students can also use bird banding to make inferences about the environment.
“Hueston Woods is like an island in the sea for birds, it’s a resting stop on their long migration,” Russell said.
Russell and his team strive to capitalize on the resting spot. First, the birds are captured in nearly transparent nets set up through the woods. Russell or other banders then record the birds weight and do a full body measurement of the bird. The examiner looks for any fluctuation in the bird’s fat content, growth and size. These measurements can be used to make assumptions about how the ecosystem may have caused these changes. The bird is then released unharmed.
Russell said honeysuckle is an example of such a change.
“Honeysuckle is an invasive species at Hueston Woods which is not a sufficient diet for the birds, this is why we measure their weight: to see if the honeysuckle adversely affects them,” Russell said.
“If we see a negative difference in the birds, we can get a grant from Toyota Green to improve and restore their habitat.”
This scientific study is a hands-on experience for Miami University students studying zoology, ecology or other biologic courses.
“I’m taking a field ecology class and we have a lab assignment on banding,” junior Jonathon Taylor said.
“Its just incredible to examine the birds so closely and to have such a unique field-study,” senior Aaron Anderson said.
Aside from students at Miami, the bird banding session also intrigues a variety of observers, particularly children.
Deb Oexmann, who has run the Brukner Nature Center in Troy for the past 24 years, said she sees bird banding as something beneficial for children.
“I especially love to see the effect banding has on kids, seeing the expression on their face when they release the birds, well there’s nothing like it.”
Oexmann uses this unique activity to educate and inform children about the birds’ ecosystems.
“Its great to teach kids to appreciate even the littlest creatures in life,” Oexmann said.
Lorna Wallick, a graduate of Miami’s class of 1973 and now a part of the Institute for Learning and Retirement said she believes it is also an engaging activity for the elderly.
“ILR allows me to participate in these banding sessions; I’ve been banding since I was a little girl and I am so glad there is a program here that lets me be a part of it still,” Wallick said.
“You can’t experience wildlife until you actually experience it,” Russell said. “Seeing it first hand gives you a true appreciation for the birds as opposed to watching it on National Geographic.”
Russell, a true devotee to the study of birds, always finds something fascinating in each banding event and never tires of the process.
“Every day I go out and learn something new; even after 20,000 birds I’m still amazed by them,” Russell said.