Monday, May 21, 2012

Catbird success!

One of our research projects at RRBO is a joint project with Dr. Melissa Bowlin, a faculty member here at UM-Dearborn. Last fall, we placed light-level geologgers (or geolocators) on a sample of Gray Catbirds on campus. Catbirds are one of our most frequently banded birds. These tiny devices measure light several times daily. If placed on a migrating bird, they will record data that can be used to calculate latitude and longitude when compared with sunrise and sunset times and light levels at noon in different geographic locations.

This data can give us a wealth of information on the pace and route of migration, and wintering areas. You can read all about how they are used on the RRBO web site. 

There is a catch (pun fully intended). In order to get the data, the bird must survive a full migration, return to the original banding location the next year, and be recaptured so the geolocator can be removed and the data downloaded. Last fall, we placed a colored leg band on each of the catbirds which also carried a geolocator, so we could more easily re-find any birds that returned this year.

Well, I couldn't have been happier to find one of our color-banded catbirds singing right behind the Environmental Interpretive Center (EIC). Once I was sure he was going to stay put, I set up three nets between two of his favorite singing perches. While I was setting the nets up, I caught a catbird I presumed might be his mate. It was banded, and turned out to be a bird we banded as a hatching-year bird in August 2008.
Nets set up on either side of the driveway to the rear of the
Environmental Interpretive Center. Hard to see? Good!
Very early the next morning it was time to try to catch "the" bird, and Dana Wloch and Darrin O'Brien joined me. Often, territorial male birds will investigate another singing individual of his own species. We placed an iPod playing a loop of a singing catbird behind one of the nets. Sometimes that's enough, but it usually helps to have a stuffed "singer" near the recording. I didn't have a stuffed catbird handy, but I did have a study skin of a European Starling.  He'd have to do.

Vulgaris the Starling Dummy. iPod playing a catbird song in the background.
Once we were set up, it was step back and wait. Our target catbird began singing, and he came in closer to the nets to investigate. Within minutes he swooped over one net, and over the next. Then again. And again. Uh-oh. These nets are kind of hard to see, but it looked like our bird had figured out our ploy and was avoiding them.

Dana and Darrin, dejected. We thought we were in for a long morning.
After about 10 minutes, the catbird flew from behind one net headed back to his usual singing spot and ventured a little too low. Bingo! In the net. We quickly retrieved him.


It didn't take long to take him into the banding lab, remove his geolocator and green band (so we didn't go after him again), and take some measurements so we could let him go.

Three happy catbird catchers, and the subject ready to be released.
This catbird, which was carrying geolocator #929, was the last catbird we put a device on last fall, on 29 September 2011. The bird had originally been banded as an adult on 10 August 2010.

The well-traveled geolocator.

Dr. Bowlin is out of state on another field study, and when she returns she will download the data from the device. Then, it will take some additional time to analyze. Sometimes due to weather or time spent in shaded spots by the birds, the data may difficult to interpret. Hopefully, we'll get good data from this bird, as well as any other catbirds that return that we recapture.

And we have already located the favorite singing perch of another color-banded catbird. I hate to report that we have tried catching this bird for several days and have come pretty close, but so far he seems to be on to us and prefers singing about 10 yards from the nets. We also have a tentative sighting of a third bird, and have some areas left to survey for catbird pairs. I'm optimistic we will be able to retrieve a few more geolocators this season.

About half of our catbirds were sponsored by donors last fall. Unfortunately #929 did not have a sponsor, so we didn't get to provide fun news to one of our supporters. If you are interested in sponsoring a catbird with a geolocator, I'll assign one to anybody making a gift of $300 or greater.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Congrats on a super capture! I am looking forward to hearing the results.

Dr. Bowlin should cancel her field study and return home immediately.... ;)