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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Banding Together: Citizen Science

Iris releases a Cedar Waxwing
On a dark summer's night, just before dawn, bicycles and cars begin to fill the NBNC parking lot. It's a 'banding day,' and volunteers walk the dew-covered fields, opening mist nets and preparing the banding station for a busy morning. For the next six hours, the banding station will catch, measure, tag, and release birds as part of a nationwide study on bird abundance and distribution. Capturing birds allows us to gain insight into their productivity, survival rate, and other demographics invaluable to their conservation. In addition to its conservation value, banding has allowed NBNC to educate about avian research in a way we were never before capable.

Jeanie Williams has volunteered at the station for the past two summers, refining her skills at identifying and measuring birds, removing them from nets, and recording data. Without volunteers like Jeanie, the station could not operate. At the same time, volunteers like Jeanie get to enjoy the unique experience of seeing (and even holding) birds up-close. Many are common, yet seldom-seen residents of NBNC that skulk in dense brush. Only through banding can we see them well and understand their importance at NBNC.

One of the most exciting parts of the morning is when the children arrive. Volunteers have already been banding for three hours, but for the kids of NBNC's summer camp, the day is just beginning. The campers tour the station, learn about why we band birds, and allow birds to perch delicately on their hands before release. 

A banded Chickadee visits the feeder
I recall one day this summer when children arrived to an empty station. We were just beginning our final net check, which would determine if our young visitors got to see any birds. As luck would have it, we caught our very first adult male Indigo Bunting just in time for the campers to see. They bubbled with excitement and awe as they ogled the brilliant, blue bird. And then I heard one of the campers exclaim, "I want to be a bird scientist when I grow up," to which another replied, "no, that's what I want to be!"

Anytime you can advance conservation while educating the public is a chance to double your impact. At NBNC, we call this "citizen science", and we strive to offer such opportunities throughout the year. Visit the citizen science section of our website for a full listing of citizen science programs to join our community of scientist-learners.

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