Sometimes my volunteer work at the NC Museum of Science takes me outside the Bird Lab. We have been running a banding operation out of the museum’s field station, Prairie Ridge, for a few years now. I’ve been fortunate to help out on days I don’t have to work. And this week, I had one of those days.
We were hoping to pick up a few migrants moving through, but by far, the most common bird in the nets that morning were American Goldfinches. There were huge flocks of them, consisting of mostly first year birds. One net we came upon had 70 birds caught at one time! Needless to say, it took a lot of work to get all of the tiny birds freed. And in the end we had so many Goldfinches we couldn’t take all of them back to the station, some had to just be freed right there.
The pic below is an example of a sight we’d see frequently…
We managed to get a few interesting birds out of the nest that were not Goldfinches though. There were lots of migrating Palm Warblers, and one female Blue Grosbeak that was practically bulging with fat reserves, likely soon to be on her way south. This is in addition to the Prairie Ridge regulars like Mockingbirds, Bluebirds, and this cool male Pine Warbler.
My personal favorite of the day was not a particularly colorful bird, but this a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. She was a feisty bird, even though she was drained of fat reserves, I suspect she had rode the cold front in that had moved through the night before. In her morning foraging to replenish her tank she got caught in our net. We bagged and tagged her and sent her on her way.
This is probably the only time I’ll get to band with the museum this fall, to my dismay. It’s a blast to have the bird in your hands. To notice things you don’t see often, like the yellow soles of Palm Warbler feet or the pin feathers on the head of a molting Catbird, even if having a bird in your hand means occasionally putting up with powerful jaws of a Northern Cardinal (and they hurt something fierce).
If you ever have the opportunity to help out a bander, take it. It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal to the birds we too often see from behind glass.