Mad Island Banding

April 26, 2013 by Pete Marra


Not only are we able to reveal patterns in bird movement, but also patterns in tick movement! Many species of ticks include birds within the types of vertebrate species upon which they can take bloodmeals. Ticks typically attach to a host and feed for anywhere from 3-7 days. Birds can certainly move a long distance within this time period, for example, during post-fledgling dispersals or migration periods. Dr. Sarah Hamer is interested in the ways that birds contribute to the geographic range expansions of ticks due to their migratory movements. The Mad Island Bird Banding team has begun to check birds for the presence of ticks by carefully checking in and around the bird’s ears, eyes, and bill. The process takes less than one minute per bird, and any ticks that are observed are carefully removed and preserved for future identification.

We expect that Neotropical migratory birds may be carrying ticks that originated in Central and South America, and we would like to understand if these exotic tick species may become established in North America. Furthermore, this work will let us learn more about ticks that may be established locally in and around the Mad Island Preserve. Because ticks are associated with a suite of zoonotic pathogens (those that are shared between animals and humans), this research will provide valuable data to help protect human and veterinary health. We hope the new samples collected at Mad Island will complement those collected by other researchers in other areas along the Gulf Coast, as well as inland, to provide a comprehensive view of the ways in which birds are involved in tick and tick-borne pathogen cycles. Check out the new line on the tally list for every blog entry: number of ticks collected!

Dr. Sarah Hamer is a veterinarian and bird bander and is collaborating with the Smithsonian team on the tick study. Sarah is an Assistant Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University, and has a background in vector-borne disease ecology. She joined the Mad Island Banders to provide training in tick checking and removal techniques. Sarah has studied breeding and migratory birds involved in the maintenance of Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens in the Midwestern US. More about Sarah's research program.

Here are our totals so far. We are really busy almost every day now! We caught 100, 125 and 133 birds in the last few days!

Number of Captures: 1173
Number of Species Captured: 66
Number of Species Seen: 234

Number of Birds with Ticks: 33