The public is invited to join the E.L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Hills on Saturday, Feb. 3, to help with bird banding, a program done to track and collect data on bird populations.

The public is invited to join the E.L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Hills on Saturday, Feb. 3, to help with bird banding, a program done to track and collect data on bird populations.

Photo provided by Dan Badgley


Nature center offers up-close look at local birds

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 17, 2018

 As part of the nature center’s bird banding program, kids can assist experts with humanely trapping, studying and re-releasing birds into the wild.

As part of the nature center’s bird banding program, kids can assist experts with humanely trapping, studying and re-releasing birds into the wild.

Photo provided by Dan Badgley

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The public can get up close and personal with local birds as part of the E.L. Johnson Nature Center’s bird banding program.

Bird banding is a method of humanely capturing, examining and re-releasing birds to collect data on the local avian populations. While they are being examined, an identification tag is attached to the animal’s leg, so if it is captured again in the future, the data between the two instances can be compared.

“Bird banding is a way to monitor bird populations, which is normally very difficult because they are small and they move around a lot,” explained Dan Badgley, the nature center manager. “You carefully capture the bird, you put a small metal band on their leg which has a number, you take some measurements of the bird and then release the bird. The information is then available to ornithologists. The hope is that (the) bird will be captured again and those measurements can be taken again, and from that we get a sense of where birds are traveling, how fast they travel and if the population is increasing.”

The banding event is free of charge and open to the public. It will take place at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3. Snacks will be provided and registration is not required.

The nature center runs a similar program for Bloomfield Hills Schools students in the spring. One of the staff naturalists who leads both the student group and the public group is Blanche Wicke.

“We’ve been tracking birds for 50 years, and I’ve been helping for 25 years,” remarked Wicke. “We’re not allowed to band birds ourselves, so we bring in a licensed bander. There’s an introduction, and half the kids will band the birds at a time while the other half will check the nests. While we do this, we talk about bird habitats; we let them use binoculars and teach them all about birds. It’s one of my favorite programs.”

The licensed bander for the program is ornithologist Allen Chartier. He said there is so much that can be learned from banding and so much that can be used to teach others.

“The different things we can learn from bird banding are about as numerous as the individuals who use bird banding for research,” Chartier said. “Many banders will study a single species for the purpose of obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree, while others study birds for many other reasons. There are many bird observatories around the world where bird banding is an important component of gaining a deeper understanding of bird biology and ecology. Some of the more basic things that bird banding has revealed to all of us is migration routes; helped identify critical habitat for stopover in migration; different patterns of migration between males and females, or adults and young, of some species; longevity records and many others.”

Wicke said she’s always learning more through these programs, and that it’s especially interesting if they capture a bird that was already banded, because it lets them see how they’ve grown and where they’ve gone.

“We tell the kids it’s sort of like a treasure hunt,” she said. “The nets we use to catch them are like hairnets — they’re very fine — and the birds get tangled in them in a way that doesn’t hurt them. Allen will point out different parts of the birds for the kids and show them the differences between different species, and he lets them release the birds at the end.”

Chartier said ornithology may be somewhat of a niche interest, but it is a rewarding one — particularly when they find something unexpected.

“Birds can be seen anywhere, and it is easy to get started bird-watching with an inexpensive bird book and a modestly priced pair of binoculars, as I did when I was 11 years old, and hopefully we inspire a few fourth graders to do every spring at the E.L. Johnson Nature Center,” he said. “Bird-watching can become a lifetime hobby that can bring great joy, wonder and even inner peace. Bird banding is not for everyone to take up — perhaps for those with fanatical curiosity and a love for science. Discovering something that nobody else knows is quite a thrill, followed by the realization of course that discoveries must be published. Birds are good indicators of the health of our ecosystem and changes that are occurring, and bird banding is one scientific method that contributes to a better understanding of these natural processes.”

Whether people see a rare bird never seen before in the area, or are just able to get a closer look at the creatures flying around their backyards, the nature center staff said the banding program is a unique opportunity for people who have a passion for nature.

“The most common ones are chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, different kinds of sparrows, or nuthatches. We’ve seen a bird called a fox sparrow this winter, so we’re hoping to see it again. There’s also a pine siskin that we may see,” said Badgley. “In the spring we focus on the peak of migration time, so the majority of the birds we band, they are birds passing through, whereas in the winter we’re looking at mostly year-round resident birds. … We hope people better learn to identify birds and learn their habits. It’s a fun winter activity to do.”