Sweet Chickadee Fun at our Final Class!

On Tuesday, November 27th we ventured into the arboretum for our final outdoor experience as a class. This week we had the honor of joining Chris and Rachel in bird banding at the Nature Centre. Excited to see what the day would bring, I have to say I was very impressed with how much we learned.

When we arrived Chris sat us down in a room and he explained to us what Bird Banding is and why people do it. It’s a safe way of catching birds, marking them for research and tracking purposes and then releasing them again. There are tonnes of information that can be gathered from bird banding such as, growth patterns, migration, where they breed vs. where they go for the winter etc. At the arboretum, Chris mainly bands chickadees but he says on some nicer days he has caught all sorts of other birds.

How to Catch The Birds

At the arboretum, Chris showed us three ways they catch their birds. When it is not cold and dark and windy outside, mist nets are used. They are known for looking sort of like badminton nets but rather than being really tight they are loose and bag like, in order to actually gently catch the birds. The reason why they cannot be used at this time of year is that in a mist net, birds that are caught typically end up on their back and cannot move and they may have difficulty withstanding the cold like that.

Mist nets, typically used for bird banding.

In our class, we used potter and ground traps. The potter traps are the little cages on the top of the bird feeder and the ground traps are the much larger cages on the ground. Chris poured birdseed all over the ground and the feeder to attract the birds to come and get caught in our traps. Potter traps are designed so that when a bird flies in it lands on the wire bait floor that triggers the closing of the door behind them, once one gets in nothing else can. Ground traps, on the other hand, are just too smart for the birds. They have an entrance that is always open but it is designed a way that once a bird flies in it cannot figure out how to get back out.

Potter traps located at the top of the feeder. Ground traps are on the ground.
Little one-way entrance on the ground traps that birds have difficulty finding their way out of.














Once the birds were trapped in the cages it was time to take them out and bring them in for banding. Chris would put his hand into the cages and safely remove the chickadees and then put them into a bag. He explained that it is important to know whether a bird needs to be alone in a bag or not because some birds can be extremely aggressive when in a closed space together, whereas other types can have up to 6 in a bag at once and not care. For the chickadees, each bird needed its own bag, and they were also never reused, just in case one of the birds was carrying some sort of disease.

Chris placing a chickadee into a bag after catching it in a potter trap.

How to Band the Birds

The arboretum has been banding birds for years now and each time something is caught it gets recorded on the data sheets. Our trip was no different, with the classes help, Chris banded each bird that we caught. Some birds were already banded so all we needed to do was update their information. Other birds had no bands and needed to be banded for the first time. At the Arboretum, there is a color banding system for the chickadees that was approved as a research project, therefore each bird is known by its band colours. We recorded their weight, age, wing length, sex and the time we caught them at.

Chris showing the class how to record the data we collect from the caught chickadees

It was cool to watch Chris interact with the chickadees which he claimed were his favorite bird. After doing so much work with then he seemed to have built a connection with them. While we were banding he would even speak to them in a pet-like way. This reminded me of the video we watched in class about Helen Macdonald and the connection she had with her hawk. Of course what we saw and experienced was nowhere near as extreme as Helen’s story, but being in the presence of these birds, closer than ever before, I could feel my connection with birds growing. All of a sudden these little birds that I used to think nothing of, had much more value and, was very fascinating. Chris even showed us how he is able to “talk to birds”. His bird calls are so good and so clear he won a talent show competition and genuinely claims to confuse birds with his calls. 

We also learned the proper way to hold a bird without hurting it. There are two ways, the first is called banders hold “peace sign” (pictured below) and the second is photographers, which is an upright position Rachel showed where you hold the bird’s feet.

Bander’s hold: used to hold the birds down while banding without hurting them.
This is the one and only morning dove that we caught and Chris spreading her wing feathers so that we can measure her.














Releasing the Birds

Once we were finished, the birds were ready to be released again free of harm. We got to take turns releasing the birds. We placed the Chickadee on our other palm and slowing released it to let it fly away.

Slow Motion Chickadee Release:

Thank you Chris and Rachel for such as awesome time!!! And thank you Diane for an awesome course we will miss you!!! 🙂

By: Kasia Kowanda