When spring migration comes to a close, we at Black Swamp Bird Observatory quickly switch gears and begin new banding endeavors. Summer is when we transition over to a different program called MAPS, or Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship, which focuses on breeding birds. MAPS is a continent-wide banding scheme where stations throughout the country all follow the same protocol to collect data on the birds that breed in their area. The breeding season is separated into ten-day periods, and banding occurs on one day during each of those periods. BSBO runs two MAPS stations: one at the BSBO office in Magee Marsh and one in Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.
We all have sort of a love-hate relationship with MAPS; it’s great to get to work with a different suite of birds than we see at our migration station in the Navarre Marsh unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and it’s so much fun when we start to catch baby birds, but it’s also usually ridiculously hot and filled with mosquitoes, deerflies, ticks, and chiggers…so it can be a little unpleasant. But throughout the summer season, we lucked out most days with biting insects and the weather. Our first day at Oak Openings in June was probably the coldest day we’ve ever had out there, and we actually managed to stay in long sleeves for the entire morning. The bugs weren't too bad, either, although the deerflies at BSBO started to pick up at the end, and some of us are bug magnets…
MAPS banding is a very different feel than migration banding in that it’s usually a lot slower. If we catch 45 birds at Navarre, it’s a pretty slow day, but 45 birds at MAPS is a REALLY good day! This is mostly because, since the birds are breeding, they’re not moving around as much. They’re either sitting on the nest or foraging, and because there are lots of insects around, they don’t have to fly far to find food. Numbers may pick up when the young start to fledge, but, until then, we get a fair amount of downtime in the mornings.
That being said, we’ve had some pretty exciting moments this summer, mostly at our Oak Openings site. One of those moments had to do with a bird that we didn’t even capture! We’d heard reports of a Mississippi Kite (MIKI) in the region and thought we might go looking for it after we’d finished banding. But, luckily for us, while we were going through our checklist of observed species at the end of the morning, we saw what we first thought was a hawk flying overhead…but it was the kite! We got a pretty good look (although not good photos…) before it flew away. As you might guess from the name “Mississippi” Kite, this elegant raptor is a southern bird, very unusual this far north. Not only was this bird a lifer for all of us, but we got to add a new bird to the Oak Openings list!
One of our favorite birds at the Oaks station is the Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO). Most years, we only catch one of these noisy birds, maybe two, if we’re lucky. This year we ended up with three! Two of them were caught in the same net at the same time, making it likely that they’re a breeding pair, but, since we can’t sex them, we can’t say for sure. RHWO are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that the male and female look exactly the same. Some birds that are impossible to sex by plumage are still able to be sexed during the breeding season because of their breeding characteristics: a cloacal protuberance (CP) means it’s a male, and a brood patch (BP) means it’s a female. However, in some species (often cavity nesters), the males help incubate the eggs, so they develop a brood patch, as well. This is the case for RHWO, and the males also don’t develop a CP, so there’s no way to sex them at all. Male or female, though, they’re just such handsome birds!
Finally, the most exciting bird this summer, perhaps, was a return Eastern Wood-Pewee (EAWP). We hear EAWPs singing their heads off every week at Oaks, but this was the first (and only) that we’d had in the nets. And boy, was it a doozy! “It’s just a wood-pewee,” you say, “What’s so interesting about that?” Well, it’s neat partly because we just don’t get that many recaptured or return flycatchers. Secondly, this particular bird was banded as an after-hatching-year (AHY) in 2014, making it at least 10 years old and setting a new longevity record for the species! This is actually the second longevity record that has come from Oaks, the first being a 10-year-old Blue Grosbeak back in 2017.
Species longevity and other population statistics are an important piece of conservation information that can be gained from MAPS banding. For more information about the MAPS program, check out www.birdpop.org/pages/maps.
With the breeding bird season now behind us, we're busy getting back into fall migration operations in the Navarre Marsh Banding Station. Here is an initial breakdown of the numbers from this summer:
Ryan Jacob, Ashli Gorbet, Mark Shieldcastle