Citizen Science: Backyard Banding

Color-banded Chickadee. Photographed by Jim Rathert

The photo above, taken by prominent Missouri photographer Jim Rathert of a color-banded Carolina Chickadee at the Birds-I-View Garden in Jefferson City, displays how color-banded birds may be seen and identified.

This program is not only an education tool that allows Missouri residents to get up close and personal with their own backyard birds, it’s also an important project for gathering data on longevity and return rates of some of our resident and wintering bird species. Citizen Scientists with color-banded birds are asked to provide us information on a regular basis (e.g., weekly or monthly as is convenient) about their re-sighted birds.

For an example of how color-band data is reported, please download our “How to Read and Report Color-bands“. You can also download our re-sighting spreadsheet. As we receive data from our Backyard Banding participants, we will be able to determine the lifespan of some resident birds, such as Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees. We will also be able to investigate the question of winter site fidelity of Slate-colored Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and White-crowned Sparrows.

Thank you to everyone in Missouri who has invited us to visit their homes and businesses over the past several years! Please see pictures from some of our banding sessions below. Our target species include Northern Cardinal, Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees, American Goldfinch, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Junco, Eastern Bluebird, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, and Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

What exactly is Backyard Banding?

The White-breasted Nuthatch is our Backyard Banding mascot. Pictured (above) is a female banded in Marshall, MO.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is our Backyard Banding mascot. Pictured (above) is a female banded in Marshall, MO.

Backyard banding is a fun and (hopefully!) educational demonstration that lasts about 4 hours in the afternoon during the winter (mid-November to early March) season when feeder activity is highest. We set up one or two mist-nets around feeders to trap avian visitors. Each bird is banded with a standard serially-numbered aluminum band and a unique combination of one to three plastic color bands. For example, if we trap three Downy Woodpeckers, one will have a blue color-band, one a red color-band, and one a yellow color-band. This way, people can identify individual birds as they return to feeders. We provide forms for participants to report their color-band re-sight data along with instructions on how to read color-band combinations.  This program will give us a chance to monitor lifespan and return rates of our resident and wintering species.  Perhaps even more importantly, it allows us to converse with Missouri residents in a casual setting about the value of bird conservation and research.