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Bird banding at Montana Wild lets people view birds and science up close

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 14, 2024

HELENA — On Friday morning, a bird banding event at Montana Wild took place where they caught, banded, inspected, and released birds.

“We can learn a lot about birds just from looking at them but when we catch them with nets and have them in the hand, we can learn things that way that we can't learn any other way,” says Non-game Bureau Chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Kristina Smucker.

Ten large bird nets covered Spring Meadow Lake State Park. A crew from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were scouring the area every 20 minutes to search for signs of entangled birds who had flown into the nets. An American Goldfinch was trapped in net 4.

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After untangling the bird, Kristina Harkins, a Field Coordinator with MT FWP, walked the sacked bird back to a biologist outpost under the pavilion at Montana Wild. There the public could watch as scientists banded the bird’s leg with an ID number and recorded information such as sex, breeding condition, age, weight, wing length, and more. This operation humanely processes the birds without hurting them. After detailing the essential information, kids waiting in the wings had the chance to release birds back into the wild.

The information collected will be submitted to a nationwide database known as MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survival). This information allows them to make comparisons to various regions and across the nation. All of this is essential to biologists’ understanding of breeding success, says Smucker. The crew is in their 3rd season of bird banding. This is the second of 7 bird banding sessions of the season that occur every 10 days.

“So, we can use that information to do habitat restoration. We can also look at trends over time. Are bird populations increasing or decreasing? And we're even tracking things like climate change. Are birds returning sooner? Are they breeding sooner? And how is that changing over time?” says Smucker.

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Corie Bowditch, Montana Wild Program Manager, says that bringing in the public to view the process allows them to not only see the birds up close but also the science behind data sets, forming a bond with the nature around them.

“But here they're getting to see the science behind the work that Fish, Wildlife and Parks does. And so, I mean, there's not much more effective than having a kid of any age see a bird right in their hand and be able to release that bird back into the wild. And the hope is that they have a stronger connection to birds and their habitats, and, you know, when they're making life decisions maybe they'll think of that little bird they saw here today and help to preserve habitat for their species,” says Bowditch.

If you’re interested in seeing the bird banding for yourself, you can head over to Montana Wild where they’ll be hosting public viewing sessions.