Banded Gray Catbird

Leverage your birding data with VCE


Birders love challenges, and reading color bands on a moving bird is an acquired skill. Field ornithologists often attach color bands to wild birds to visually distinguish individual birds without recapturing them. Over time, observations of these color-banded birds yields information on their movement and survival: important data needed for the management and conservation of bird populations. In 2016, VCE is collaborating with the North Branch Nature Center and the US Army Corps of Engineers to encourage citizen scientists to observe (and report upon) a local color-banded population of Song Sparrows and Gray Catbirds at two locations in Central Vermont: the North Branch Nature Center (Montpelier) and the Union Village Dam (Thetford).

We invite all citizen scientists, regardless of their ability or birding experience, to participate in this collaborative endeavor.

At VCE, we are constantly thinking of ways to harness the value of citizen scientists' observations. Traditionally, birders record the numbers of birds observed at a site on a particular visit. These data are quite useful, for example, to researchers developing range maps or habitat selection models. We can gain additional information about a population of organisms, however, when a subset of that population is marked and observers record the number of marked and unmarked individuals observed during their outings. These types of surveys are common in ornithological studies where researchers collect individual sighting histories in order to delineate territory boundaries, estimate inter-annual survival, or record dispersal events.

Except for the occasional wing-tagged waterfowl, however, most birders only rarely encounter birds wearing auxiliary markers. Combining our observations of color-banded birds with birders' observations could enable us to monitor marked birds more thoroughly, and to monitor a larger population of marked individuals than we could without the addition of citizen scientists' observations. Ultimately, we hope to expand this union, between VCE and citizen scientists, to a broader suite of species occupying a larger range of habitats in Vermont.

Participating is easy–just go birding this summer at the North Branch Nature Center or Union Village Dam and report your sightings to Vermont eBird. Read more about collecting and submitting your data, and learn how to read and report color-banded birds.

Banded Gray Catbird photo, used with permission, © Maria de Bruyn: