Mad Island Banding

April 23, 2013 by Pete Marra


After a few weeks of sleepy capture rates, suddenly the birds have arrived, and we are working harder and harder…but also having a lot more fun. Gone are the lazy days of reading and watching the dolphins hunt the intracoastal waterway. During the first half of the season our capture rates hovered around 30 new birds a day, now we are catching 50-90 birds per day and hope to have our first hundred bird day soon!

The last few weeks have seen an increase in diversity and many exciting birds are showing up in our nets. Birds that spent the winter here, such as sparrows (Swamp, Lincoln's, and Savannah), and certain warblers (like the Orange-crowned), have shown a marked decrease as they move on to their summer breeding grounds. They have been replaced by the longer distance migrants, moving through from wintering grounds in Central and South America. This group includes many species of warblers, thrushes, tanagers, and buntings adding a bomb of new colors to the trees around the site.

Some birds have shown especially marked trends. We have seen a huge decrease in White-eyed Vireo captures, which were our most common bird of the early season. The majority of the White-eyes seem to have moved on, and the "local" White-eyes are showing breeding characteristics as they begin to nest. Replacing them as our most common captures have become Common Yellowthroats and Indigo Buntings. Indigo Buntings first began to trickle in a few weeks ago, with a few motley individuals in mixed blue and brown plumage. The site is now swarming with Indigos, and the males have are nearly all molted into their striking blue plumage.

While every species is a treat, everyone on the banding crew has their favorite captures so far. Tim got to see his first ever male Painted Bunting when it turned up in the nets. And despite capturing many, the whole crew still can't help but gawk at the birds' gaudy colors.

Trischa was really excited to get her hands on the first Wood Thrush of the season. Once the station closes, she'll be driving to southern Indiana and working on the Smithsonian Wood Thrush demography project. Some of the color-banded Wood Thrush have already been spotted in Indiana. Their breeding season is gearing up and will be in full swing when Trischa arrives in mid-May!

Gunnar couldn't quite believe it when a Lesser Nighthawk turned up in a net during the middle of the day. He has a lot of experience with Common Nighthawks after studying them in Wyoming, but had never before captured any member of the largely crepuscular nightjar family (Caprimulgidae). To say he was ecstatic would be an understatement!

Pictured above from left to right: Painted Bunting, Gunnar with Lesser Nighthawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Here are our totals so far. We are busy now so expect another exciting update soon!

Number of Captures: 886
Number of Species Captured: 63
Number of Species Seen: 226