2018 MAPS Bird Banding Training

Are you captivated by the pre-dawn songbird chorus, wondering how many individuals or species you hear? Or perhaps you wonder whether those individuals are the same as you heard in previous years?    Each summer since 2013, the Center for Natural Lands Management has collaborated with The Evergreen State College in running a volunteer-based bird-banding station to study the bird community in an oak and riparian woodland along the Black River at Glacial Heritage Preserve in Thurston County.  The goal of this project is to monitor species abundance and diversity at this managed site, which is undergoing significant habitat restoration, and to contribute to a continental-wide database of banding information.  In addition, the program trains young professionals on the methods and techniques associated with bird banding. 

Bird banding is a widely-used tool in avian research and conservation.  Although there are numerous techniques to study birds, bird banding is one of the few ways we can investigate dispersal and survival because individuals are uniquely marked.  Our banding station is part of a national program called MAPS, Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship, overseen by the Institute for Bird Populations (, and is one of 400 stations across North America.  

Training instructor Dan Froehlich demonstrating how to band and process a bird.

Using fine-mesh nets, over 2,000 individuals of 34 species (11 migrants, 23 year-round residents) have been banded and captured over the last six years. The most commonly captured resident species is the song sparrow (Melospiza melodia).  We have banded over 350 individual sparrows, including 239 juveniles.  Banding results also indicate that some of our local residents are very site faithful.  For instance, this year we recaptured a male spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) that was originally banded in 2014, indicating he is a 5-year old breeding bird. 

Our most commonly captured migrant is the Swainson’s thrush (Catharus ustulatus). This species leaves the rainy northwest in the non-breeding season to spend the winter in the Amazon rainforest of South America, over 5,000 miles away.  Since 2013, we have banded 184 individuals.  One notable individual is a male we banded in 2013, who has been recaptured each year for four continuous years.  Adding all those migratory trips together, this individual has traveled approximately 40,000 miles in its lifetime, each year returning to the same half-mile stretch of oak riparian habitat at Glacial Heritage Preserve.  

A male black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) about to be released.

Together with our other observations, these examples illustrate that Glacial Heritage Preserve supports a diverse breeding community of both resident and migratory birds, and many of these individuals return each year to the same stretch of oak habitat.  We are grateful to the numerous volunteers that help keep this station running.  In coming years, we will be able to estimate survival for species in our local bird community, as well as detect any changes in abundance or diversity of the community that might results from our management practices or vegetation succession.  In addition to the important data being collected, we have trained over 75 young professionals in the technical methods associated with banding, many of whom have gone on to work in the field of avian conservation.  If you would like additional information on this program or would like to participate, contact Adrian Wolf ( 

Participants in the 2018 MAPS training.

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