By Ava Lyerly
Ava holding a Blackburnian Warbler at Fort Morgan.
While I’ve only been a birder about 18 months, when I heard that the Banding Coalition of the Americas (BCA) was doing a bird banding at Fort Morgan, I didn’t hesitate to ask my parents about joining the experience. I was eager to learn everything I could about the process, what type of bird was banded and why they banded. The Fort Morgan banding experience taught me all these things. Banding helps track and study the breeding and nonbreeding migration of birds. I had no idea how much you could learn about one species through banding and tracking. After they banded the bird, they would present it to the observers/other participants so that the bird could be viewed up close. Afterwards, they would let one of the observers release it.
Ava learning the process of banding and the basics from BCA's director Kyle.
Seeing birds up close in hand was an experience I will never forget. When they let you release a bird, setting it tenderly in your hand, there’s that moment where the bird sits there quietly and it’s almost weightless body lies still. Then in a flash of feathers, it flies off into the trees. In some cases, there would be a bird such as a Blue Jay or Phoebe who would sit still in your hand until you tapped the bottom of your hand, at which point they would fly off, realizing they were free. Then there were the Warblers and Vireos who didn’t wait a second after your hand was taken off them, that they would swiftly fly off. The Chickadees would fly to a nearby branch to try their luck at pecking the band off their leg, but within a minute they would completely forget it was there and fly away.
When there were no birds waiting to be banded, everyone told their own birding or banding experiences. The team loves sharing their birding stories with each other; always spreading the birding spirit. Nothing stopped them from banding. A few days during the banding, we had rainy weather. One particular day, a storm brought torrential rains to the banding station. Rain poured for hours yet we all stayed in the tent and waited out the rain. We were pushing puddles of water off the tent ceiling trying to prevent the rain from bursting through the top of the tent (which it did), soaking those around the collapse. Not to worry, everyone pitched in to set the tent roof in place again. After the rain had stopped, they immediately set the nets and resumed their banding. It was entertaining watching everyone having a great time, despite the rain. Sometimes an uncommon or rare bird such as the Rufous Hummingbird, or the Wilson's Warbler would show up. Everyone would get very excited, and we would take as many pictures as we could.
BCA staff showing the color wing pattern on a male American Redstart.
The joy they have while banding or presenting, or even just watching the birds in the trees is a contagious joy you always feel. I see the happiness on people’s faces while they listen and observe the bird being presented and I know they are as thankful as I am that the BCA allows people to join the experience. I learned little facts here and there about some of the birds we banded that I didn’t know before. Some simple facts such as foraging habits of different species of Warblers and Vireos. Sometimes it was ID tips, like how to tell one Empid from another, or an immature Gray Catbird from an adult. Another example would be learning about bird migration. You learn which birds are migratory, and which aren’t, and if they are, where they go.
Ava learning how to record the data for the banding process.
The entire experience was priceless and made me appreciate our avian friends even more. This event was an opportunity for anyone to come learn about the banding and the birds involved. I’m so glad my family and I could attend the BCA banding at Fort Morgan.
Ava is a young birder from Alabama. A part of BCA's iniatives is to train people of various ages and backgrounds in the process of bird banding.