Birds with Bracelets

October 21, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the images to read them better.

FORT SILL, Okla., May 26, 2016 — Normally leg bands on a songbird aren’t noticeable, even with binoculars. Partly because you’re generally not looking for leg bands. And partly because the bird may be too far away for you to see them.

But if you’re like me, you really notice them once you start editing the photographs. This meadowlark was photographed a few days ago at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. On its left leg is an aluminum U.S. Fish & Wildlife numbered band, which is the “official” band. If I could read the number, I could look up on a website the place the bird was banded and get details on it. The plastic colored leg bands are to help researchers more quickly identify the bird visually, since generally the aluminum bands can only be read with the bird in hand.

Fortunately, I know someone who knows someone who knows someone, and voila I got that information anyway. From Dr. Eli Bridge, assistant professor, Oklahoma Biological Survey, University of Oklahoma, who headed up a study of meadowlarks.

Here’s what I got back: “More than likely, it’s the following bird (though we cannot confirm as one band has been lost from right leg):
1573-66851; EAME; AHY; M;5/26/2014; WMWR ; Lat:34.711382 Lon:-98.631; Left:Neon green (Ng) over Aluminium (AB); Right: Orange (O) over Light Green (Lg)”

Translation of the part I understand: It’s a male banded at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, May 26, 2014. It is missing the light green band on its right leg.

My meadowlark was probably banded very close to where I saw him, he said. If I knew how to take a GPS reading I could tell for sure.

The broader topic of his study was about whether or not native grassland birds would thrive on land converted to biofuel crops such as corn, soy, or switchgrass. Although switchgrass is a native plant, growing it for biofuel means it is a monoculture. Lack of diverse plant species tends to be a problem for birds and wildlife.

While meadowlarks and switchgrass get along just fine, they really don’t find a monoculture very appealing. Other studies show a lack of diversity of bird species in monoculture cropland. Diversity good. Lack of it bad.

The meadowlarks at the Wichita Mountains refuge were part of a control sample, to get a baseline on populations in a native environment, said Bridge.

“It was also reliable habitat, which we knew wouldn’t be plowed the following year,” said Bridge.

You see, these meadowlarks were being fitted on their rumps with little fanny-pack style geolocators, which would track their migration. The birds, which return to the same field year after year, had to be recaptured in order to get the data from the devices, and the colored leg bands assisted in identifying them. However, Bridge doesn’t really know where these meadowlarks spend the winter because the geolocators didn’t last very long.

“They ate them,” he laughed. “They’re big enough birds they can chew them off.”
Well, at least they got to keep the bracelets.

To learn more about banding birds, or where to send a band should you find a dead bird with one, visit the U.S. Geological Survey website:

You can also read it here.




Photos copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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