Bird Banding Laboratory


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Project description for the BBL banding station

Use of powerline right-of-way on Patuxent Research Refuge by migrant birds
Danny Bystrak

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is blessed with a unique transmission right-of-way.  In 1959 scientists at the Center conceded to allow a powerline to traverse the PWRC property on the condition that the habitat under the wires be managed with a previously untried method.  Rather than annual or biannual mowing, this right-of-way is managed through basal spraying of tree species that have the potential to attain a height that might drain power from the wires.  The result is largely a dense shrub canopy approximately two to three meters in height.  Many studies were conducted here in the early years, with the focus on breeding birds.


In late 1979 Danny Bystrak recognized the potential of this habitat for use by migrating landbirds, and obtained permission to experiment with placement of some mist nets along a 0.5 kilometer section of the corridor.  The results were very impressive and, in 1980, he established a migration monitoring station, banding from August 1st to November 30.


From 1980 to 2003, Danny and later Deanna Dawson operated the migration banding station. This effort showed that the habitat was used to a remarkable extent by birds on migratory stopover, as well as by locally nesting birds and birds arriving to over-winter.  Perhaps a combination of abundant fruit production, a high density of leaf surfaces for insect gleaning, and cover from predators explains this use.  Deanna has presented these findings at meetings and workshops in an effort to encourage power companies and other land managers to use selective basal spray as a management technique.


This is one of a few stations that had been operated long enough to compare long-term trends with other monitoring methods, such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). Dawson and Sauer (unpublished) and others have demonstrated that migration banding stations produce results comparable to the BBS, and are the only source of monitoring data for species whose breeding ranges lie primarily in roadless areas.


Primarily due to a heavy workload, Deanna had to discontinue the effort in 2003, but thanks to recent staff changes, and renewed interest, we revived the station in 2007 and now operate in Spring and Fall.


The station continues to be a focal point for visitors from foreign banding programs, as well as serve as a frequent training and educational site for interested staff.  We also have two experienced volunteers as well as employees to help with set-up, data entry, bird extraction, etc. Due to the closed nature of the Center, we cannot encourage outside participation.


We operate 26 mist nets for 3 to 5 days a week.  The nets are opened before dawn and operated for approximately 3.5 hours, and every 40 minutes they are checked and birds removed for banding. Birds are transported in cloth or mesh bags to a centralized location, where each is identified, measured and weighed.  Typical processing time is under one minute per bird.  The time periods each year are from approximately mid April to late May and mid-August to mid-November.