Spring in Pennsylvania brings rain, flowers and birds. One of the ways that scientists assess the health of ecosystems is to use representative species to serve as environmental indicators. Birds are an integral part of an ecosystem and their population numbers can tell us a great deal of information. Changes in the bird population can tell us the impacts from climate change, pollution, and habitat change. One way to assess the bird population is through bird banding. A technique that has been used since the 1800s and data obtained from bird banding sites has been used to gain an increased understanding of migration and bird anatomy. At a bird banding station scientists place a series of mist nest ups to harmlessly trap the birds. Once the bird is removed from the net its leg is fitted with a lightweight metal band with a number on it which is logged. That way if a bird is recaptured at another banding station, scientists can gather information about its travels. The bird's health is assessed. The bird is measured, weighed, and the age is assessed.
This weekend I participated in my first spring migratory bird banding at the Rushton Conservation Center which is part of the Willistown Conservation Trust located in Newtown Square Pennsylvania. It was an early morning and the bird banding was open to the public. I have been to events at conservation centers before. What struck me about this event is the passion that the bird banders shared with the public and how willing they were to let the public engage with the birds and the banding process. Several children were there and were encouraged to assist in the banding and letting the birds go. This is an important process in teaching conservation. By assisting the staff and being allowed to interact with nature, they feel a sense of ownership in protecting that nature. Children who have these experiences often grow into adults who care about conservation and exhibit positive environmental behaviors. Bird banding at the conservation center will be happening until mid- May. You can learn more about Rushton Conservation Center by visiting their website at www.wctrust.org .