Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting the (Bird) Band Back Together!

Robin Wearing a Bird Band
Photo Courtesy: Gidzy
We've talked about many citizen science projects that track the plants and animals in our environment. Most are passive find a place or species to observe and you record it's location and environment. Some do this better than others, and some have a larger scope than others. But all rely on that general pattern.

Bird banding is different.  In these cases scientists  actively capture birds to tag with special "bands" and release them into the wild to track.  When a bird later dies or is photographed up close with the band, an observation can recorded and tracked back to the specific bird.  This is a powerful tool.  Not only can it help us keep observations for each bird separate but it also allows the bird's movements to be tracked, it's migration patterns mapped, and it's lifestyle better understood.

In most cases citizen scientists won't be actively banding birds.  These programs are run by the U.S. and Canadian governments and are generally restricted to professional ornithologists.  But if you can show an understanding of the birds and a real research need a permit may be issued.  Much more on this process can be found here on the U.S. Geological Survey's web site.

However, citizen scientists can play an important role in tracking banded birds and reporting the results.  Bird watchers can spot markings in their binoculars or they may find a band on bird remains while walking through the woods.  In either case scientists would love to have that information.  Just go to with the band number, bird species (if known), and information on where you found it.  All this will be entered into a web-based form for submission.  That's all there is to it!

Of course, this isn't a completely passive activity for citizen scientists.  You are also encouraged to look at the data collected over the years and perform your own analyses.  How you ask?

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Go to the Bird Banding Laboratory web site to learn more about bird banding and the data collected over the past 50 years.
  • For simple data requests, visit the summary data page for selecting data on bird species, states/countries they were spotted in, and year ranges going back to 1960.  Hitting "Get Counts" will pull all that data into a large table you can use and adapt to your own purposes.
  • To obtain more specific data send your request directly to the USGS for processing.  While you need to provide your name/address, valid reason for the data, and selection criteria, it's a pretty easy process.  Just visit the Bird Banding Data Requests site for detailed instructions.
  • Now that you have the data do something interesting with it!  Map the locations of a specific bird type for each year...are there changes?  Is heir territory changing?  What about birds in your area...are the number of species increasing or decreasing each year?  There are so many questions you can answer once you have the data.

That's all there is to it.  No matter how active or passive you want to be as a citizen scientist, bird banding projects offer something for everyone.  Just remember to band and track with can be initially stressful for the bird and we want to treat them with respect.  But it can be a small price to pay for the valuable environmental and biological data we receive.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I cannot wait to start looking at my little birds to see if they have bands... but somehow I doubt that they do! I'll try anyway!