While attending the Featherfest birding festival in Galveston last weekend, I made a quick trip via the ferry to Bolivar Peninsular late one evening to photograph shorebirds on a birding refuge known as Bolivar Flats. The tide was going out and the shorebirds were going with it to feed on the freshly exposed sandy mud flats. Thousands of American Avocets were feeding in the shallow surf, but too far away for me to get good photographs.
About the only birds close enough for good photos were the sanderlings and an assortment of small plovers, including Wilson’s, Piping, Snowy and Semipalmated. As day light was rapidly decreasing, I snapped off a number of photos of these small running shorebirds without really looking closely as to which species were my targets. When I got back to my hotel room, I checked my photos and one caught my eye.
It was a Piping Plover with a bright yellow plastic flag on its left leg above its knee with the inscription N60 in black letters/numerals. I knew that this bird had been tagged shortly after hatching somewhere in the northern Great Plains, but the bird’s breeding range covers a number of states and provinces in Canada. I tried to use the internet to see where the bird was tagged, but to no avail. I called the United States Geological Survey offices in Maryland and left a message concerning my finding.
The bird banding people returned my call and took the information of the date, location and time of my photographed Piping Plover. They told me that they would send me a report of the details. When the report came, I found that this plover was tagged on the shores of the Missouri River near Washburn, North Dakota on July 25, 2013. The plover chick was only two days old at the time. This plover either had wintered in the Bolivar Peninsular or was passing through the Galveston area en route to North Dakota.
The responsible organization for this banding is the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center located near Jamestown, North Dakota. Among their research projects is a tern-plover study that covers birds that are listed as either endangered or threatened. The Piping Plover is listed as threatened in the central part of the country, but endangered in the Great Lakes region. By flagging or banding the birds, the researchers are able to track and study these plovers as they migrate from their summer breeding grounds in the Great Plains states to their Gulf of Mexico coastline wintering grounds.
If you are not familiar with Piping Plovers, they are about the size as a newly hatched chicken and are generally light colored with a partial black breast band and a black forehead line. They have orange legs and a short black-tipped orange bill. They are mobile after hatching and can fly 30 days after hatching. Their parent’s role is to brood them at an early age and warn them of impending danger as they grow older.
Banding birds is a valuable research tool in studying bird’s life span, migration and life history. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keep track of the banding programs and provide valuable data for ornithologists to study birds. Almost all ornithology studies use banding data in their research. The banding operation does not harm the birds or cause them discomfort while they are wearing the bands.
If you would like to witness a hummingbird banding exercise, I would suggest you attend the Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival to be held next weekend at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg. There will be a shuttle service to a ranch where bird banders from the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson will be banding hummingbirds. Some attendees might even get to hold a hummingbird prior to its release. Check out the Wings festival on the website: www.wingstx.org. Hope to see you there.