Monitoring the Birds of the Tetons

It’s not every “New Englander” that is offered the opportunity to band birds in the Tetons for the summer, but so it was for me during the summer of 2012. I was finishing up my graduate work at the University of Maine and my lab mate, Jenny McCabe, was beginning the hiring process for that summer’s research program with Teton Science Schools (TSS). The Conservation Research Center has been banding birds (the process of placing a ring on a bird’s leg with a number for future identification) for over 20 years. Jenny has been working with TSS since 2007 and she asked if I was interested in applying for this summer’s team. I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

The 2012 breeding season turned out to be a very productive year of banding for the Conservation Research Center. We captured 1,754 birds of 62 different species from May 31 – August 17 at our five riparian banding stations in the Jackson area. A season highlight was the capture of a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), which has never been recorded as breeding in this area before!

Our banding team, also consisting of Becca Gerber, Joanna Woodruff, and Nicholas Beauregard, greeted the morning sun each day as we opened our nets in the pre-dawn light. We also assisted the Earthwatch volunteers, who locate bird nests at each of our sites, with their nest monitoring. This year’s Earthwatch teams found a staggering 123 active bird nests!

The data we collect has value both in the Jackson Hole area and also throughout the United States. All information from our banded birds is entered into a national database managed by the Institute for Bird Populations. This nationwide effort allows biologists to track consistencies or changes in: migration timing, nest initiation dates, local or national species composition, and species survivorship.

It was wonderful to be welcomed into the TSS community for the summer and contribute to an effort that is so much bigger than myself. I was able to spend time in the mountains, learn more about western birds, work with amazing people within TSS and the greater Jackson community, and form friendships that will last a lifetime. I will always be grateful for my time in the Tetons and I can say with certainty that I will find my way back here someday!

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