An Avian Adventure

On Saturday October 13, Dr. Pruett’s general ecology class went on a field trip to witness and execute bird banding. Bird banding is a common element in Dr. Pruett’s life because she is an ornithologist or bird enthusiast. In order to participate in bird banding, huge fine meshed nets are set up along patches where biologists think birds may be susceptible to getting caught. Once these nets are set up, there are only two more steps: continue to wait and measure birds.

Most of the bird-banding trip was spent on waiting and hoping that birds were going to fly into our net. We checked the net approximately every fifteen minutes and if there was no bird in the nest, we walked back and waited another fifteen minutes. During our waiting time, we made note of all the birds around us that we could identify.

The exciting part was when we actually caught some birds. When birds flew into the nets, they would get caught in the fine mesh and the GSAs (Graduate Student Assistants) would untangle the birds and place them into white bags, which were used to calm them down( according to Dr. Pruett). I’m not sure how being placed in a bag would make something calm — if I was placed in a bag I’d probably be freaking out — but the birds seemed to like it. Once the birds were untangled, they were brought to the back of Dr. Pruett’s car and measurements were taken.

Monica Zimmerman, one of the GSAs, showed us that the proper way to hold the birds was with your index and middle finger on either side of the back of the bird’s head, holding firmly.

This allows the bird to breath and you to remain (relatively) safe from being pecked. While the birds were still in the bag, their weight was taken and recorded.


Dr. Pruett weighing one of the birds

Once the weight was recorded, the birds were taken out of the bags, the birds were banded, and data was collected including: molting, fat content, wing cord length, and feather damage.

Measuring the wing cord length.


Monica checking a grey catbird for fat and molting.
This is done by blowing up the feathers


Checking a male cardinal for fat and molting

All of the data collected on the bird banding trips that Dr. Pruett goes out on is uploaded into a database on the Bird Banding Laboratory page. This data can be accessed by any bird-bander in the country and they can see where re-captured birds are originally from and where birds end up. This information is especially useful for determining migratory patterns and life spans.

I will admit I was very unenthusiastic about going on this field trip because I’ve primarily been interested in marine animals (even though I do find birds to be kind of pretty).  After going on this field trip with Dr. Pruett, I have to admit that her job awesome! Watching the birds up close, hearing their songs, helping to band them and watch them fly away was absolutely incredible. I suggest going on a trip if you’re ever given the opportunity. On our trip, we caught two grey catbirds, two cardinals (one male and one female), one palm warbler, and a common yellow throat. The birds were so beautiful and it was definitely a day that I won’t forget!

Palm Warbler


Palm Warbler trying to fly


Female cardinal



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