Posts tagged ‘bird banding’

Headshots—of Birds


I’ve long been a fan of the bird-banding program offered by the Arboretum at Penn State. (I’ve written about it here, here, and here.) Under the direction of volunteer Nick Kerlin ’71, who has both a state and federal license to do this sort of thing, students put up “mist nets” to catch wild birds, then fit each bird with a tiny metal ID band. They record data on the bird’s weight, age, sex, etc., and then set it free.

Nick sends the data to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent, Md., where scientists can use the information to monitor the health and migration patterns of bird populations.

I like the research aspect of bird-banding, of course, but I also like how it offers Penn State wildlife science students—and anyone else who’s interested in stopping by—a chance to learn about birds in a very up-close way. It’s also a great chance to photograph the birds. This morning I took a macro lens along, to try some close-up portraits, and I thought I’d share a few of the images I got. Above is a female cardinal, and below is a more extreme close-up of the same image:


The group this morning also banded several white-throated sparrows, a handsome bird that, around here, shows up in the fall and stays until spring. Here’s one:


And here’s a tufted titmouse. Note the leg band he’s just acquired:


There are two more banding sessions remaining in the fall season; you can see more information about them here.

Tina Hay, editor

October 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

A Bird in the Hand—and I Mean That Literally


There’s nothing that can get you much closer to nature than holding a tiny bird in your hand—or a large one, for that matter—and a number of Penn State students are getting an opportunity to do just that. Volunteer Nick Kerlin ’71 is overseeing bird-banding sessions again this fall at the Arboretum, where students can get experience in the process of catching, banding, assessing, and releasing a variety of wild birds.

(That’s not Nick in the photo; it’s an unidentified student, setting free a newly banded chickadee last Saturday.)


October 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm 1 comment

Birds Up-Close

Two years ago a Penn State grad student, Emily Thomas ’07a, ’09, started offering informal sessions to give fellow students some experience in bird banding—a process in which you set up nets to capture birds in the wild, then record data about each one, fit it with a leg band, and release the bird again. Students in the wildlife and fisheries science major, especially, benefit from having that kind of experience on their résumé. Emily had a banding “sub-permit” (sort of a junior license), so she was able to provide that experience to them.

I went to a couple of those banding sessions in the fall of 2010 and loved the opportunity to watch the banding process and to photograph birds up-close. I wrote about the experience here and here.

The banding sessions have continued every spring and fall—that’s migration season, and thus the best time to capture a variety of species that are moving through the area—and they’re now under the direction of local volunteer Nick Kerlin ’71, who is an experienced naturalist and has an actual bird-banding license.

I went to one of Nick’s sessions yesterday and, over the course of four hours, got to see a lot: two downy woodpeckers, a chickadee, several song sparrows, a least flycatcher, a Swainson’s thrush (that’s the bird at the top of the page), a phoebe, a black-throated green warbler, some catbirds, a brown thrasher, a couple of house finches, and more goldfinches than I could count.

Bird_bandingHere’s a quick overview of how the process works. Nick and the students string up something called “mist nets,” which look a bit like badminton nets, at various locations at the edge of the woods or actually in the woods, and wait for unsuspecting birds to fly into them and get tangled up. Every 30 minutes they do a “net check” and carefully untangle any birds they find. At right is a student removing an upside-down house finch from one of the nets.

Then they put the bird into a little cloth bag and bring it back to the “banding station” (basically a card table under a canopy) to be processed. They measure it, weigh it, figure out how old it is and whether it’s a boy or a girl. They fit it with a tiny metal leg band that’s numbered, so that if the bird is captured in some other banding operation elsewhere in the country, they’ll (more…)

September 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm 6 comments

More Birds, Close-Up


The bird-banding sessions that grad student Emily Thomas ’07a, ’09 had been running since the end of August officially ended a month ago, but earlier this week she sent around an e-mail saying that since the weather has been so nice, she’d be setting up the bird nets one more time this morning. The idea was to give interested undergrads in the wildlife and fisheries science major some more experience in capturing, banding, and collecting data on birds—and also to see what species might turn up at this late stage of the migration season.

So I went over with my camera to the banding location at the Arboretum at about 7 this morning and hung out for a couple of hours. It was very cold for the first hour or so: One of the students had a cell phone with a thermometer on it, and it read 20.7 degrees at one point. (more…)

November 12, 2010 at 3:33 pm 2 comments

A Weekend with the Birds (and the Bird Banders)


A tufted titmouse, freshly banded by the Penn State crew.

I know this past weekend was Homecoming and all, but I spent most of it thinking about birds. I mean, I watched the football game like everyone else, but … well, let’s not talk about that.

On both Friday morning and Sunday morning, I got up extra early and headed out to the edge of the Arboretum at Penn State to meet up with grad student Emily Thomas ’07a, ’09 and a small group of undergrads—all of them from the wildlife and fisheries science program—to watch them band birds.

I had seen a bird-banding operation once before, on a trip to Alaska, but that was a brief encounter. I thought it would be fun to hang out for a longer time, see a lot of different birds, and take a lot photos. And I was right: It was quite cool.


Emily Thomas fits the bird with an ID band using special banding pliers.

The way bird banding works is this: The volunteers stretch big “mist nets” (sort of like badminton nets, only much taller and longer) in various sites, then wait for birds to accidentally fly into them (more…)

October 12, 2010 at 2:08 pm 11 comments

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