Utah's bird scene is soaring. As such, many citizen scientists leave their nests at dawn from April to October and travel to University of Utah's Red Butte Garden, where they catch and band birds (averaging 15-20 birds each day). In the process, they gather data on bird migration, population and gender. U of U graduate student Jordan Herman, pictured at right (wearing a scarf), is one of the leaders of the local banding project. Soon, she will be researching bird ecology at Bale Mountain National Park in Ethiopia, where the U of U has another banding station. To find out more about volunteering with the U of U's Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab, contact Herman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Isn't the idea of having people get up at the crack of dawn to band birds ... um, for the birds?
North American ornithologists (people who study birds) have been losing sleep since the early 1800s to band birds in the name of conservation and science. Given that the earliest record of bird banding in Europe was from 1595, we can assume that humans have been banding birds for nearly half a millennium. Nowadays, hundreds of bird-banding stations exist across the North America.
How do you catch the little things?
We catch birds using a network of 16 nets called mist-nets. Once the nets are opened (half an hour before sunrise) we check them every 30 minutes and extract and band any trapped birds. Because the nets are so fine, they are nearly impossible for the birds to see, so birds will incidentally fly into our nets as they go about their daily business (like foraging or defending territories).
Don't they put up a fight?
As bird lovers and professional scientists, it is our top priority to handle birds safely and quickly in order to minimize their stress. Even then, we receive plenty of bites and squawks that let us know when a bird is ready to be released. Sometimes, they use their ultimate and most effective weapon on us: poop!
Birding is a feather in Utah's cap, right?
Birding in Utah is unique because our Great Basin, Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau and alpine ecosystems encourage a great diversity of wildlife and plants. So far, 457 bird species have been documented in Utah.
How about those citizen scientists?
Thanks to citizen science, we have been able to collect a massive data set on birds all over the world. EBird.org is a website regularly used by citizens to record bird observations year-round. Simply by using this site, you can become an active citizen scientist and contribute to bird research and conservation efforts in your area.
How do you know if you're a bird of a feather with the bird banders?
Fellow bird nerds love to visit our station. We have hosted local birding groups like the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society and, most recently, we had three visitors from the U.K. who made the journey to Utah just to experience birding in the Southwest. Birding is a language that is understood across all continents.