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Up Close and “Bird”-sonal: A Perspective of the Tedious Practice of Bird-Banding at Chico Basin Ranch

Photos and Words by Madeline Jordan

Editor’s Note: The photos in this series were taken and edited by Madeline Jordan.The photos along with their captions previously appeared in a story written by Jordan for the Ranchlands Review. She previously worked for Chico Basin Ranch as their staff photographer.

Aaron – a 22-year-old volunteer bird bander at the Chico Basin Ranch station – holds a Wilson’s Warbler, or WIWA, in his hand, as he and Nancy – a biologist from the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies who runs the station – try to determine its age and gender.
The sheer volume of the amount of data points required for these procedures is overwhelming, which is where Peter Pyle comes in–a member of the highest echelons of bird expertise who authored a massive tome of technical ID data for banders, full of charts and diagrams for 395 species.
The tiny, delicate bird waits patiently as a variety of instruments are used to take measurements. Special rulers are inserted under its wing, into the middle of its tail, and across the width of its beak.
After a look at Pyle’s chart on head cap length–is it 15mm or 16mm?–Nancy feels certain enough to make a call on the WIWA. With the age and gender determined, other measurements, such as the fat level and weight, are taken and recorded.
Finally, a metal band with a unique number is fitted around the WIWA’s leg. In case the bird is ever recaptured, she now has an official scientific identity linked to all the data points that Aaron and Nancy have now collected.
The Chico is both one of the best birding sites and most prolific banding stations in the state. This fall, over 900 birds of 60 species came through the station. The soil on the ranch has never been plowed, making it one of the best specimens of short-grass prairie anywhere, with the result that it’s a haven for native species.

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