How often do you find yourself presented with the opportunity to get up close and personal with a prairie warbler?
Not often enough, which is exactly why I jumped at the chance to join conservation scientist Neil Gifford on a bird-banding quest late this past May.
Heading out into the Albany Pine Bush at six in the morning, we were looking for a single, specific bird — one tiny prairie warbler in a sea of scrubland three and a half times larger than Central Park.
Yet with the help of some surprisingly low-tech gear (including a Styrofoam craft supply bird painted yellow), we found and netted the warbler in record time. Luckily, my video camera was running so you can see the action yourself!
After removing the tiny bird from the net, Neil crimped a unique combination of brightly colored aluminum bands on his legs. The bands make the bird visible and easily identifiable through binoculars and will help Neil’s team keep tabs on the birds over the next few months.
This project — done in tandem with the New York Bird Conservation Area program — is aimed at tracking the birds throughout the season to see if they can successfully find a mate and produce offspring.
The prairie warbler, endangered throughout much of its region, is actually an indicator species for pine bush habitat. In other words, if you have a healthy warbler population, it usually means the ecosystem is also doing well.
As we released the warbler back into the wild (but not before snapping some great photos), I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to him over the summer. And while it’s still too early to tell if he’s had any luck, be sure to check back later for an updated warbler romance report!
Emily Manley is a marketing specialist with The Nature Conservancy in New York.
(Photo: Banding the caught prairie warbler. Source: Marc Borkan.)