2014-09-11 / Nature

Bird Banding Draws Large Group of Volunteers

By Jack Kelly

Dr. Jameson Chace assists Ethan Hoag in releasing a Black-capped Chickadee. (Photos by Jack Kelly)Dr. Jameson Chace assists Ethan Hoag in releasing a Black-capped Chickadee. (Photos by Jack Kelly)The Aquidneck Island Land Trust recently conducted a bird-banding exhibition at the Sweet Flag parcel, a vital natural filter essential to the Bailey Brook buffer zone. The brook is the primary source of Newport’s drinking water and this critical habitat is also an important stopover for migratory songbirds and other avian species.

Dr. Jameson Chace, a biology professor at Salve Regina University and a member of the land trust’s board of directors, delivered a short lecture on the bird-banding process before leading approximately 30 participants on a tour of a series of lightweight “mist nets,” set to capture birds. Chace was ably assisted by Kristin McDermott, a senior biology student at Salve, who is conducting a project on migratory songbirds, and his daughter, Tory, age 11, a student at Hamilton Elementary School.

One of the first birds captured was a migratory juvenile Yellowbreasted Chat, a member of Dr. Jameson Chace holds a juvenile Yellow-breasted Chat.Dr. Jameson Chace holds a juvenile Yellow-breasted Chat.the warbler family. As Chace explained the banding process to the crowd of inquisitive onlookers, the bird was weighed, its wings and body were measured, and feather and blood samples taken. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife band was then attached to its right leg and it was prepared for release. All of the biological data and the band number were recorded for entry into the international database used by biologists and ornithologists for tracking migratory birds.

The average Yellow-breasted Chat has a wingspan of 9.75 inches and a body length of 7.75 inches. It is olive colored above with a bright yellow throat and breast, a heavy black bill, and dark eyes and lores, surrounded by white. This species is much larger than other warblers and is considered to be somewhat secretive and shy. It prefers scrubby brambles and thickets where insects and berries are most plentiful.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.During mating season, singing males will launch into song flights and perform with slow, exaggerated wingbeats, tail-pumping, and dangling legs in an attempt to woo a female. The songs of this bird include a slow set of well-spaced calls such as a rich, deep “toop,” a low “kook,” jay-like fusses, and rapid, chattery “kookookoo” phrases. Its calls include a low “kuk” and a whiny “chup.”

The bird nests and breeds in northern Mexico, across many areas of the continental United States and southern Canada. It winters in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Other species that were netted and banded included catbirds, sparrows, cardinals, and chickadees, all birds common to Aquidneck Island. “Migration has begun but so many factors influence the migration patterns, such as temperatures, weather, and wind direction, that it is hard to predict the arrivals of the birds,” Chace said.

Chace chose a number of children from the group to help him release the captive birds. David Alexander, 10, of Bristol and a student at Pennfield School, assisted in the release of the Yellow-breasted Chat. “That was so great and really cool,” he said as he watched the bird fly into the underbrush.

Ethan Hoag, 5, of Newport and a kindergartener at Pell School, had a memorable experience. A Blackcapped Chickadee was reluctant to fly from his hand and had to be coaxed with a soft blow of breath on the bird’s feathers.

Chace and his students will continue the bird-banding program at the Sweet Flag property during migration season. For more information, contact Jessica Pohl at Aquidneck Land Trust, jpohl@ailt.org or 401-849-2799 x18.

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