Sunday, February 06, 2011

Winter Bird Banding- Part One

I wrote a few posts about my visits to the bird banding station at Ruthven Park last fall. For the second winter, hard-working volunteers are trapping and banding Snow Buntings near Caledonia, Ontario. I follow the Ruthven nature blog and admire their persistence in the face of bitterly cold winter temperatures as they work in the field while parked in a van for hours at a time. 

A flock of Snow Buntings approaching the ground traps
 My visit was on a beautiful winter day with comfortable temperatures around -5C and no wind to speak of.  Snow Buntings breed in the high arctic, far above the tree line but migrate south in the winter. Large flocks are seen in area farm fields in the winter where they forage for fallen grain.

Banding started this day before sunrise, a little after 7AM. I had a 75 minute drive to get there and left about the time they started, pulling in on the lightly travelled secondary road around 9AM. Notice the lack of washroom facilities (even bushes) out here so my thermos of hot tea remained untouched. 

Nancy and Rick set out ground traps baited with cracked corn. In this picture they are removing birds from the traps and putting them in cloth drawstring bags. 

A portable banding lab was set up in a van and all necessary tools were between the two front seats. I sat in the back and watched as each bird was taken from its bag, measured, sexed, aged, its fat stores and muscle analyzed and weight taken. 

I saw first hand the difference between male and female plumage. First year male birds are somewhere inbetween and it takes special skill and experience to determine the sex of younger birds. They are very pretty sparrows in my opinion.

Parts two and three to follow....


  1. Your hobby keeps you busy doing something very different from your job. That's no doubt a very good thing.

  2. Snow Buntings are beautiful.I also find them super difficult to capture with a camera.This banding would be interesting to watch.

  3. Banding would be a fun activity to get involved in.

  4. I have only seen a flock of 4 Snow Buntings and that was last year at the farm. They certainly are a very beautiful bird. Excited to see what part 2 and 3 of this story is. I wonder how often you thought about the hot tea throughout the day - lol. I would have done the same thing.

  5. What a neat experience Ruth!


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