I spent last summer in Wyoming, where I was working with the Teton Science Schools to band birds. I won’t go into too much about what that entailed, but see Bird Banding With the Teton Science Schools; What Is A Mist Net?; How To Catch A Bird in A Mist Net; and Feathered Friday Article for more details.
Sometimes we would have visitors to our banding stations, educational groups made up of school-aged children and/or adults. It was great fun, sharing all the birds we caught with them, and hopefully passing on some of the passion that we all have for nature and birds. I’m going back again this May, and am very much looking forward to it. Songbirds and the Tetons, what more could one possibly want in a summer?
Sometimes people say some, shall we say, interesting things.
I’d written down some of these gems, and then forgotten about them. To stumble upon them now brings back all sorts of wonderful memories of summer in the Tetons. I can’t say I dislike winter in Colorado, but it’s not quite the same. There’s a little more snow, for one. And it’s slightly colder. Like, I don’t know, maybe by 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so (my car told me it was negative 9 here in Boulder last week when I got up to go climbing at 6 a.m. Yeah, I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea either. At least it was inside. Climbing and birds are two of the only things I’m willing to wake up that early for). Though the snow did stick around up in the mountains fairly late into the summer last year.
The Flatirons are awesome, but it’s hard to beat the Tetons. I mean, come on. They’re the Tetons.
People Say the Darndest Things:
Bird Banding Edition
The kid who kept insisting that they were “Warbling Videos” and “Cheddar Waxwings.”
I said, it’s “Vir-e-o,” there’s no ‘d,’ and “Ce-dar,” like the tree, not “Ched-dar” like the cheese. He insisted I was wrong. First time it was cute. Second, third, fourth, etc. times, not so much. He just would not let it go, and wasn’t willing to be corrected.
Yeah, okay kid. You’re right, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and probably can’t read properly either. It’s not like I majored in both zoology and English or anything.
“Look, I can make your scale say Error!”
Definitely one of the worst things to hear someone say about your research equipment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was a little boy. We quickly went over (again) the no-touching policy. Again.
And then I said, in that fake-happy tone you quickly learn when working with children, “Go look at the bird that Sarah has!” (translation: Get Away From My Equipment You Little Cretin).
“So what is there to do around here other than climb and stuff?”
This was a question from a high school student (also male) visiting from Miami, Florida.
I responded to that one with a blank look.
I don’t understand the question. You’re in the Tetons. What else could you possibly want to do?
“Do birds get periods?”
This question came from one of the adult chaperones, because she noticed the rather red stains on some of the bird bags I was holding. A bit of explanation: After we remove the birds from the mist net, we place them in small cotton drawstring bags and securely close them in order to transport the birds safely to the banding station. This keeps the birds from hurting themselves, and from stressing out too much as we carry them back for processing.
The stains were in fact poop stains, because we had been catching a number of American Robins and Gray Catbirds that had been dining on organic locally fresh berries, and when birds get freaked out (as happens when they suddenly and unexplainedly find themselves caught in a mist net) they tend to void their bowels, either in our hands, or in the bags, or all over our log books, or any combination of those places. Or, if you’re extremely unfortunate, in a projectile way all over your face/in your eyes/mouth. Poor Sarah. I’ve never had bird poop in my eye, but I imagine it wouldn’t feel very good. Or be fun to clean off contacts.
Yes, it’s kinda gross, but you get used to being pooped on. Bird bags make excellent poop-wiping hankies, in case you were wondering. I can personally attest that whatever those berries are, they make an excellent dye, both on clothes and skin.
So no, birds don’t get periods. That’s a mammal thing, and birds, as you (hopefully) know, are not mammals. Those red stains are poop, not blood. Also, those stains are huge, and if a bird lost that much blood during the few minutes it was in the bird bag it’d probably be in trouble and I sure as heck wouldn’t be this nonchalant about it.
We take bird safety very seriously, and if there’s so much as a speck of blood on a bird, we notice and do what we can to stop the bleeding before releasing the bird. However, injuries are very rare, and less than 1% of all the birds we capture in our nets are injured. There have been a number of studies about bird safety, and if you want to read one of them there’s a link on my post What is a mist net?
“So who can tell me what this bird is?”
“Oooo, I know, I know, it’s a House Wren!”
“Um… actually, wrens are a little bit smaller, and they’re all brown and kind of mottled looking. This one has a few different colors. It’s actually an American Robin.”
This was an older woman, who was really excited to be out banding with us (she was practically bouncing up and down with excitement). I was worried that she would feel bad that I had to correct her, so I tried to be very nice about it. She didn’t mind at all, because she was just so thrilled to be out with us seeing the birds. It was sweet, and her energy was infectious. I loved having people out to the banding stations who were this excited about everything. Though I tend to be pretty even-keeled, this is how I feel about just about every bird I handle– jump-up-and-down-excited. I just hide it well. That, and it would startle the birds, so I reign it in.
In case you were wondering:
American Robins weigh about 77-85 grams, and are usually 7.9-11 inches long, with a wingspan of 12.2-15.7 inches. House Wrens weigh 10-12 grams, are usually 4.3-5.1 inches long, with a wingspan of 5.9 inches. There’s a bit of a size difference there…
“I’ll bet this metal pole will float.”
That gem is from my brother, while helping me take down nets after banding and apparently contemplating throwing one of the poles in the river. He’s got quite a number of these profound comments, which you can see if you follow the link above.
My dad says, “Yeah Eric, I’ll bet they would.”
My mom says, “Don’t encourage him!” to my dad.
I said, “Eric, if you throw that pole in the river you have to go fish it out, and then explain to Keegan (the crew lead) why the poles are all wet.”
And one more:
“I’ll bet you can’t carry all 20 mist net poles up to the van.”
Said Sarah, the banding educator, to Keegan, the crew lead, because it was the last day of banding and she didn’t want to carry any of the poles.
To which he replied, “I’ll bet I can.”
And he did.
Up from the riparian area down by Blacktail Ponds Overlook, which involves wading through a few streams and then climbing up a pretty steep, though short, embankment to the parking lot. From the banding site to the parking lot is maybe a 10 or 15 minute walk, through uneven terrain, carrying a heavy load of banding equipment in backpacks and these awkward poles.
I found this video someone took of the overlook (see link below). We had nets set in the first clump of willows you see on the right, and then in the willows to the left of the giant open area. Basically, we were scattered around between the camera viewpoint and the pines along the river. Not real sure why the video is 4 minutes long, but if you just watch the first minute or so you can get a good idea of what Blacktail Ponds looks like.
Tetons from the Blacktail Ponds Overlook video
Mist net poles are metal electrical conduit pipes, which can be bought at Lowes or Home Depot (which I have done). They are 10 feet long, and not particularly heavy if you have only one or two, but they quickly start to hurt the shoulder after walking any sort of distance. My limit is 10, which I can only carry for a max of 15/20 minutes before I have to take a break (after which I have no desire to resume carrying said poles).
Also, it’s not at all easy to keep them all together if you have any more than 10: they start to go all over the place, like giant Pick-Up-Sticks. There’s a reason Pick-Up-Sticks aren’t 10 feet long and made out of metal.
After he successfully carried all the poles up to the van (and proved, definitively, that he is much more of a man than Sarah, Bo, or myself– who are all female), we stopped at Dairy Queen and bought him a Blizzard. It should be noted though that he did this before he knew we were going to buy his Blizzard, from which I have learned that if you start any request with the phrase “I’ll bet you can’t [task you don’t want to complete]” you can probably get a guy to do it for you.
Anyone who wants to be my designated pole-carryer this summer, I’ll pay you in Blizzards.