| We had a brief moment of excitement on Saturday when a Sharp-shinned Hawk (about the size of a crow) flew into the net, right at my face!! while I was trying to free a White-throated Sparrow from the net. Apparently, the hawk had seen the sparrow from the air and thought he'd help himself to a free lunch until he hit the net, shook himself free of it, and flew off.
Bird activity usually eases up after lunch so at about 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon, Jim moved 3-4 of the nets to the bottom of a long sloping hill, covered in knee-high wild grasses and thorny bushes, while the rest of us gathered at the top of the hill. Then, at Jim's signal, we marched down the hill, hoping to flush several species of sparrows from the grass so they'd fly into the nets. (See my story, "Chasin' sparruhz," for a detailed account of how one "chases" these little minxes.) Some sparrows are SO small, they actually run through the grass, or under it, just like mice! In fact, you could probably hold half-a-dozen of 'em in one hand---that is, IF you could catch 'em!!
Well, we marched up and down that hill 3 times and, in the process, flushed 3 LeConte's Sparrows and 1 Henslow's Sparrow into the nets where we retrieved them, got to hold them and admire their beautifully colored feathers, and took dozens of pictures of them. LeConte's Sparrows have cantaloupe-colored heads with gray cheek patches, orange breast feathers, and white bellies, while the heads of Henslow's Sparrows are olive green and their wings are a deep rusty brown (see Berlin Heck's photos above), and both have very short spiky tails.... so each looks very different from what you would normally think of as a "sparrow." Anyway, Brenda and I got to hold and pet these tiny little birds, took pictures of each other holding them, and had a marvelous time overall, making the whole trip well worth the 10 hours we spent in the car to get there and back again.
|Back the same day....
by Cyndie Browning
February 2, 2002
| Brenda Carroll and I left Tulsa (OK) at 4:00 o'clock a.m. on Saturday (Feb 2nd) and drove to Jefferson, TX (300 miles each way), where I used to help with bird-banding at the farm of a friend when I lived in Texas (before I moved to Tulsa).
_WE_ don't actually band the birds; that takes a specialized education and a license from the wildlife department, but we help retrieve the birds from the dozen or so mist-nets Jim sets out around the farm. (Dr. Jim Ingold, an ornithologist at LSU-Shreveport, is the bander.) Each mist-net resembles a badminton net with square holes about 1/2-inch square, except it's woven finer than a badminton net, and the net stands 6-7 feet tall and hangs all the way down to the ground. Each net is placed within a foot or two of bushes and thickets where birds like Cardinals, Blue Jays, Titmice, Chickadees, and sparrows like to hang out.
Then comes the fun part.
When the birds fly out of the bushes, they land in the nets and their feathers get tangled (the net sags intentionally when they hit it so they usually can't get out without our help), and then we come along to free each bird from the net, drop it head-first into a tube sock (to keep it safe and calm), and then haul it back to the table where Jim weighs and measures each bird and puts a numbered metal band around one of its legs. (The data from each session of banding goes into a national database, and among other things is used to gauge the health and density of various bird species around the country.) The thing is, some o' those birds don't want to be caught!! Cardinals, in particular, will try to eat you alive, starting with your fingers, as you're struggling to untangle their feathers---and if you know what cardinal beaks look like, then you can imagine that they bite pretty hard---and they do!! They also squawk and squeal "bloody murder!" the whole time you're fussin' with 'em! BUT---and this is what makes bird-banding SO MUCH FUN!!---you get to hold these real, live, WILD birds in your own two hands!!!!!!!!! including Cardinals ("Redbirds"), chickadees, titmice, juncos ("snow birds"), and sparrows, as well as the occasional Mockingbird, Blue Jay ("flying blue chickens"), and a few other larger species.
Once I got to untangle a Ruby-throated Hummingbird from one of the nets! Jim isn't licensed to band hummers but he wanted to see it anyway (we all did!), so I proudly carried the little guy back to Jim's table, laughing at the tickle of its wings buzzing against the insides of my fingers and marveling at the way its tiny feet---no bigger than ants---kept trying to grasp my little finger. I could feel its teeny-tiny heart beating and watched with amazement as the pupils of its eyes tried to focus on me as it peeked out from between my fingers.
|That's me holding a LeConte's Sparrow,
the proverbial "bird-in-the-hand."
They sure are small!! but beautiful,
especially up close....
|story (c) copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2002|
|LeConte's Sparrow by Berlin Heck|
|Henslow's Sparrow by Berlin Heck|