Yellow-breasted Chat 

This Yellow-breasted Chat was caught August of last year. During the breeding season, males sport an all black beak while females retain some pearlescent coloring in the beak.

Some of us are listers, some of us casual admirers of birds, still others of us prefer the scientific end, perhaps a more ornithological approach. Bird banding itself provides a different lens from which to view our passion for birds. When holding a bird in the hand, I learn about things impossible to see in the field. I find I can apply what I learn with a bird in the hand to other areas such as art and field identification.

Ok, so you are watching a Wilson’s Warbler through your bins. Striking and yellow (all adult male warblers are bright yellow, right?), sporting a black beret, you think you’ve confirmed this flitting ball of gold as a male WIWA*. Now let’s say you manage to catch this bird (cough, mist net). Did you know female Wilson’s Warblers can have a cap also? By measuring the length of the cap across the head, you can accurately sex this bird. Banding is full of little tricks like this, and every time I accompany a master bird bander I learn something new. I find that I have assumed things in the field which can hardly be determined through binoculars.

Townsend's Wabler 

This Townsend's Warbler was caught at Chico Basin Ranch in May of this year. Having birds in the hand allows us to appreciate their stunning (or sometimes subtle) beauty up close.

Clear Springs Ranch, a swath of riparian and field-farm habitat, witnesses mass migration of birds in the fall and spring. Generously canopied with cottonwoods and blanketed with scrubby fruit-heavy bushes, the habitat is an ideal sanctuary for hungry, travel-weary migrants. This weekend I visited Clear Springs Ranch to learn from two master bird banders. There we snagged a variety of birds…mainly Chipping Sparrows.

Frequenting banding stations is also a great way to experience the dynamics of migration. For example, I was informed that just last week the majority of birds caught here were Lazuli Buntings. This week the spotlight is on Chipping Sparrows. And maybe next week will be Wilson’s Warblers? So I have a general idea of who comes through when, whom before whom, etc.

If you are bored with the world as seen through binoculars, why not delve into a whole new dimension of birding? Every aspect of studying a bird (life history, identification, whatever) can be approached in various ways, and I find each approach gives me a fresh outlook on the world of birds.

*WIWA is a four letter banding code