Point Reyes Bird Observatory with Mackintosh Academy

This morning, we left Novato for Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) on the Pacific coast of California.  Founded in 1965, PRBO is dedicated to advancing conservation of species on land and at sea.  The bird banding station at PRBO has been in place since 1966 so the station’s data provide a long-term view of resident and migratory species in the area.

Mist net in coastal live oak woodland

Biologists at PRBO set up a transect of 14 mist nets in chaparral shrublands and coastal live oak woodlands.  When a bird is caught, it’s taken back to the banding lab and run through a series of seven steps:

7 steps of banding

1)      identification and band bird (if not banded already)

2)      age bird by looking at skull development and plumage

3)      sex bird by checking for breeding condition

4)      check for molt (new feather growth) and feather condition to help determine bird’s age

5)      measure bird’s wing chord (length)

6)      weigh bird

7)      safely release the bird

Tiny bands for hummingbird legs.

Greater than 50% of North America’s bird species are migratory, splitting time between breeding grounds in the US and Canada, and over-wintering grounds to the south.  Why migrate?  Why not just stay in the same location year-round?  Migration, after all, is a risky endeavor.  Is it too cold during the winter? 

It’s not the cold, it’s the food.  Birds go where there’s food available.  During the winter months in the US, there just aren’t enough bugs, flowers, fruit, etc to sustain them.  This forces them to fly long distances while trying to avoid an array of obstacles – power lines, storms, windows, and habitat loss just to name a few.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a bird being measured and banded this morning.  Only three birds flew into mist nets, but that was prior to our arrival.  We did, however, learn that birds are indicator species.  They tell us much about the overall health of the environment.  If the birds are abundant and diverse, their habitat is healthy.  And, what’s good for the birds is good for us, too.