Free bird banding field trips at Chico Basin Ranch!
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When thinking of bird migration, many of us visualize the familiar lopsided V-pattern formed by a flock of honking Canada geese passing overhead. Anyone who has delved further into the subject may be aware of record breakers like the Arctic tern, whose yearly trek to and from earth’s north and south poles covers over 20,000 miles. For hundreds of years humans have been fascinated by the mobility of birds, but only during the last 100 years or so have we been able to piece together the phenomenal voyages of these feathered-aviators. Bird banding is just one method of study that has revealed part of the mystery of migration.
Bird banding, or “ringing” as it is called in Europe, is not a new concept. The first documented evidence of bird banding occurred in 1595 when King Henri IV of France lost a banded peregrine falcon during a hunt, recovering the bird twenty-four hours later in Malta, about 1300 miles away. In 1803, famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon affixed silver cords to a brood of nestling phoebes near Philadelphia. The following year, after migration, he was able to identify two of the birds by the colored cords on their legs. As the scientific community became interested in the study of bird populations, banding methods, and the bands themselves, changed significantly. Today, bands are made of a variety of plastic and metal alloys capable of withstanding years of weathering and harsh environments, such as salt water. Just about every species of bird has a band size to fit it.
All bird "banders" in the United States are regulated and licensed by the Department of Interior's U.S. Geological Survey Office in Patuxent, Maryland. The
USGS Bird Banding Laboratory is responsible for collecting and organizing all data from banders, nationwide. Of the 2000 or so master bird banders operating in the U.S., most are associated with federal and state agencies, bird observatories, universities, and private, nonprofits groups. The recovery rate of banded birds varies greatly from species to species. In songbirds the recovery rate is less than one percent. In game birds such as Mallard ducks, however, the recovery rate can be as high as 12 percent. Bands returned by hunters every year assist wildlife biologists in evaluating and managing game bird populations. Wildlife viewers can also be very helpful by being on the look-out for bands, particularly on larger birds. Long-term operation of banding stations can provide valuable data on dispersal, migration, behavior, stopover habitats, lifespan, and survival rate of individual bird species.
Should you come across a banded bird, and would like to report your observation, go to the
USGS/Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory to access their reporting forms. (Do not disturb birds by attempting to get close enough to read bands. Use binoculars or a spotting scope.)
Operated by the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory; Funded by Colorado Parks & Wildlife Since 2002 the
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) has operated a banding station on
Chico Basin Ranch, located about 35 miles southeast of Colorado Springs near the town of Hanover. Approximately 600 birds per year have been banded.
In addition to the data collected on migrant and resident birds, RMBO provides educational opportunities for school children and adults to learn about bird adaptations, banding, migration, and bird conservation. Every spring, visitors to the research stations are greeted by a cacophony of sounds and dazzling colors displayed by such flamboyant species as this male Bullock's oriole (pictured above).
To begin to unravel the mystery of migration one needs to examine some of the data that is collected by bird banders. A yellow warbler, for example, weighs a mere 8 or 9 grams (454 grams equals one pound). Spending the winter in Mexico, this tiny package of feather and flesh may migrate every spring to its breeding grounds—as far north as Alaska! To accomplish this seemingly impossible task, the bird has to feed voraciously at each stopover, gaining as much as half or more of its entire body weight. Many songbirds migrate at night to minimize such perils as predation and dehydration. Habitat loss, especially along migration routes, is the number one problem encountered by many species. Migrant birds cannot complete their annual treks without ample rest stops to supply food, water, and protection. The obstacles to migration are numerous and only the strongest, and sometimes luckiest, survive to make the journey again the next year.
Next time you hear the familiar sound of geese passing overhead, stop and ponder for a moment. Of the hundreds of migrating species, how many birds will persevere and how many will succumb to the hazards of the arduous voyage?
For Teachers, Students, Parents—and Everyone Else! Chico Basin Ranch offers free bird banding field trips and other educational opportunities for teachers, students, parents—anyone interested in this fascinating research. The recreation programs offered are designed to provide hands-on learning experiences. Field trips are offered during the spring and fall migration from mid-April until near the end of May, and mid-September through the end of October. For additional information, visit
Chico Basin Ranch.
For educators, Colorado Parks & Wildlife's education staff can help you adapt programs for all age levels, K-12. Topics and activities such as Prairie and Wetland Ecosystems, Sustainable Ranching Practices, and "corral tours" of the ranch's facilities can be added to enhance the experience. For more on this, contact a CPW Education Coordinator.
In addition to over 200 species of birds, the Chico site provides an excellent opportunity to view white-tailed deer, pronghorn, prairie dogs, or even an occasional elk along with various reptiles and amphibians inhabiting sand sage, short-grass prairie, and riparian ecosystems.
Proceeds from the Colorado Lottery, through Great Outdoors Colorado, help fund Bird Banding Stations.