Bird banding involves fitting bands with unique numbers onto the legs of wild birds. Once banded, the lives of individual birds can be tracked through time. We use this technique to determine how birds are using revegetated woodland habitat in South Australia.
Each bird species has particular habitat requirements. If we want to help our birds, we need to know exactly what to plant, how to arrange the plantings, and at what scale we must reconstruct new habitat so it will best benefit species in need.
By allowing us to track the lives of individual birds of many species, long-term banding studies give us an idea of how long different birds live, whether they move around the landscape, and how they use the plants within that landscape.
Our bird banding involves regular trips to our study sites to set up “mist-nets”, a very fine netting that traps the birds in soft mesh pockets. Once we’ve captured the birds, we remove them carefully from the nets and add a small, loose-fitting aluminium band onto their legs – each band has a unique ID number imprinted on it, and different species have different leg dimensions and so need different sized bands.
If we are particularly interested in a certain species, we can also add coloured bands to their legs so that individuals don’t need to be recaptured. Instead, the colour bands make them individually identifiable from a distance using binoculars.
We also measure the birds to provide additional information. We examine their primary feathers for signs of moult to help with ageing the birds (especially when they’re young), we measure bill and head length of some species with callipers to determine the sex for species that have the same plumage but are sexually dimorphic on size and we weigh them to assess their health and condition. Once we have our measurements, the birds are released with the addition of some new (and very useful) jewellery.
Seeing how birds use reconstructed habitat is particularly useful for planning Bio·R’s future plantings, which is why our banding projects are currently based in the 40-year-old revegetation at Frahns Farm, Monarto.
Bird banding is run as a national research program through the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme in Canberra. Bird banding projects can only be run by trained and licensed bird banders operating under animal ethics approvals and research permits.
We love to share our bird-banding experiences with conscientious environmentalists – it’s a great way to learn about the natural world. We run bird banding events several times throughout the year, including with Birds SA’s “Fledgling” events for children, and for school groups, such as through National Science Week.
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If you see a colour-banded bird in the Mount Lofty Ranges, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of the bird species, the colour band combination, and a detailed description of where you saw it (a GPS location in latitude and longitude is particularly helpful).
Any photographs of the bird are also extremely useful. We colour tag our birds with a metal band on their left leg, with a single coloured band added above, and two colour bands on the right leg, so you would need to note a combination left leg top to bottom, then right leg top to bottom (e.g., “Left leg: Red over Metal; Right leg: Orange over White”).
This information is exceptionally valuable, as it greatly improves our understanding of movements and longevity of our native bird species.