The smiles say everything. Everyone loves mist-netting birds!
When I finished my undergraduate degree, I took a 3-month internship in Hawaii mist-netting birds. I’d never held a bird before; I didn’t even know that people did that! Well, that internship turned into a year-long position because I fell in love with the birds of Hawaii, and birds in general.
Mist-netting is my first love, in terms of bird research techniques, but I have grown to love all of them. However, there is nothing that will get students jazzed to be in the field than the prospect of holding a bird in their hands.
The first time you hold a bird is both exciting and also scary. They feel so fragile and they are WAY lighter than you would expect, based on their size. That’s how they can fly though – they have a wide variety of adaptations to make their bodies light enough for flight, including air pockets and hollow bones.
But learning about those things in the classroom won’t drive the point home quite like holding one.
It’s also surprising to see how small they look in the hand. They always seem so much bigger when they are far away, in a tree, or flying overhead with their wings expanded in flight.
This Chipping Sparrow is about 15 grams, and only a few inches long. He (or she?) feels so delicate. They are much more tame than the Cardinals we caught though – those are BITERS!
I only have 2 mist-nets right now and we only had them up for just over 2 hours, but we caught 3 birds, so I was pleased. Getting skunked on our first field lab trying to catch birds would have been disappointing, to say the least.
In between net checks, we were birding the property, which is private land owned by a colleague here. Highlights from the day included Red-tailed hawks, Eastern Phoebes, a Great Blue Heron, and Belted Kingfishers.
Next week, we’re going to set up the nets across the road at the Lake Laurel field station, where we’ve birded a few times before. I set up a few bird feeders there last week to bait them in, so hopefully we’ll catch more than 3!
Not that I’m complaining about 3. Catching any birds is a successful day!