As the warbler flies…
Step one at a bird banding station is to band birds. There are many pieces of information that can be gleaned from handling a bird a single time. How old is it? What sex is it? How many of that species are in the area? What time of year are they present? You get the idea.
One of the neat things about banding birds is sometimes getting to figure out where they have been or where they go. This results from someone else finding or capturing a bird that has already been banded. Often, some one only a few miles from the Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory finds a dead American Goldfinch under a window or a hunter shoots a Mourning Dove. This are interesting data points, but we do get rather excited when our birds are found farther afield. Maybe a bird banded one fall in Maryland is found the next spring in upstate New York. We have banded nestling Osprey that were later found in Trinidad and Ecuador. A Northern Waterthrush banded at FBBO was later captured by another bander in Newfoundland and released back into the wild. These encounters are the things banders live for.
At FBBO we band birds on their left leg. So last week on May 8th, when bander Maren Gimpel took a Black-and-white Warbler out of the net with a band on its right leg, she had a hunch it was an interesting bird. Back at the banding lab, we checked all of our records and confirmed that we had not been the ones to band this bird. We took all our usual data: wing length, fat, age, sex, weight and sent the bird back on its way.
That night we turned the band number in to the federal Bird Banding Laboratory and were amazed at what we learned. The warbler in question was banded at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Massachusetts. This is neat because it’s a fair distance away (about 400 miles), but what was almost unbelievable was that the bird was banded in May of 2003 and since it hatched in 2002, this bird is now just shy of it’s 11th birthday!
We haven’t even mentioned the travel! Since this bird was captured in the spring in Massachusetts, it must have bred there or possibly even further north (they breed throughout much of eastern Canada). Black-and-white Warblers winter throughout the southeastern United States, the entire Caribbean and as far south as northern South America.
To be conservative, let’s say this bird was breeding in eastern Massachusetts and was spending the winter in Honduras. One way, that trip is about 2,000 miles and this bird would make that trip twice each year. When we captured this bird, he was making his twenty-second flight and had flown probably almost 45,000 miles.
There are so many threats to wild birds. Birds are killed by cats, they die striking windows, they are blown out to sea by storms, they get eaten by hawks, they get hit by cars. There are many many ways for birds to die and the fact that this bird defied all those odds is amazing. Bon Voyage, friend.