Banding Birds at Birdfest 2009

Each year during the month of May, Sand Bluff Bird Observatory (SBBO) hosts their Bird Fest. This festival centers around teaching the public about the wonders of birds, specifically focusing on the process of bird banding (or ringing). Each year we try to stop in for a little bit but this is also the weekend that the Illinois Spring Bird Count is, and we are usually out counting birds. This year was different because Jennie (Veery) graduated from Northern Illinois University so we were busy with that.

Henslow’s Sparrow – so close you could smell his grasshopper breath
Henslow's Sparrow

This year we were able to take our visiting aunt to Bird Fest for a couple of hours and, as always, it was loads of fun.

Bird banding is one of the most underfunded yet highly rewarded research efforts. The process works like this:

  • put up mist nets in high bird traffic locations
  • walk the nets and remove captured birds
  • place captured birds in nets
  • band birds with numbered bands
  • record all information
  • release bird

When an excellent bird is found, the Bird-arazzi heads outside to capture up-close photos. This Henslow’s Sparrow was a major highlight as it was the 2nd one banded in three days and only the fourth in 43 years at this location.
Henslow's Sparrow

However, this Baltimore Oriole quickly stole the show. Perhaps it was his flashy orange? (We still love our brown sparrows though.)

Baltimore Oriole Baltimore Oriole Baltimore Oriole Baltimore Oriole

Besides seeing birds super close, bird banding at SBBO is the ultimate learning experience. You may be an expert birder, but if you’ve never listened to the grand master, Lee Johnson, you are missing out. His encyclopedic knowledge of birds borders on supernatural.

Lee Johnson holding a Gray Catbird and firing off hundreds of nuggets of information
Birdfest 2009 - Bird Banding

Birds are banded every Saturday and Sunday at Colored Sands Forest Preserve during spring and fall migration. They are funded entirely on donations and events like Bird Fest, so it was fun to support their effort (and see a lot of great birding friends in the process).

While we were milling about outside (awaiting yet another photo-op), one of the master banders, Richard Hamilton, briskly walked down the path cradling a large bird in his coat. What he brought out was a Cooper’s Hawk.

Our friend Mike Eickman held the hawk for photos
Cooper's Hawk Cooper's Hawk

Whenever a hawk is caught in the nets it is a race against time to get them out before they break free on their own. SBBO also bands raptors at a special location, but this bird was caught in the “regular” nets.

Cooper's Hawk

Bird banding is an excellent way to get close views of an amazing array of birds and the perfect place to bring fledgling birders.

Golden-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler

4 thoughts on “Banding Birds at Birdfest 2009

  1. …loved the post! Bird banding is so interesting. The Henslow’s Sparrow is gorgeous. They have been spotted around here in Cincy, but I haven’t had luck finding one yet.

  2. I’ll have to look into banding programs in my area. I don’t know if they are any, but posts like these always intrigue me.

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