As They Take Flight, Bird Banders Reflect on Fall Migration

Like the birds they’ve banded since September, assistant bird banders Nancy Ransom and Lila Fried are moving on to their overwintering locations.

Both young women worked under the direction of master bander, James Junda, who oversees the sanctuary’s banding station as well as a station on South Monomoy in Chatham. The two split their time at both sites with James and his wife and banding partner Valerie Bourdeau.

“Coming back to Wellfleet after living on an uninhabited island was very different,” Nancy says. “On Monomoy, it was just us and the birds. When we returned to Wellfleet, there were schools and groups and public programs…it was like returning to family.”

The bird banders and their volunteers. Left to right: Nancy Ransom, Jeannette Bragger, Mary Lou Heinz, Tod Christie, and Lila Fried.

Working with school groups was a favorite part of the job for both banders. “Kids never lack for enthusiasm and always ask great question,” Lila notes. “It was especially fun to see their reactions when we showed them a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a very unusual capture for us. What kid doesn’t think raptors are cool?”

Lila and the sharpie. As cool as these birds are, raptors and their dangerous talons can do great damage to mist nets that are meant for songbirds. Luckily, this bird left our nets intact!

The fall was professionally satisfying to both women, who got to see some special birds in the hand—a Dicksissel, for instance.

The Dickcissel in all its glory. This species breeds in the middle of the US but is occasionally seen on the Cape during the fall.

” Lila and I had an amazing time ogling this bird!” Nancy recalls. Lila says she was struck by a Brown Creeper which apparently was born without a leg. “After we banded and released it, I watched in awe as the bird continued its normal creeping behavior up a tree trunk. A great example of the amazing adaptability of birds!”

No left leg–apparently no problem for this resilient Brown Creeper.

Both Lila and Nancy enjoy field research and have done it in some far flung locations—the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii and American Samoa. Nancy will be in Ecuador this winter where she’ll study molt patterns in birds, which she calls “invigorating”.

“Molt patterns (the timing and replacement of certain feathers) are bio-indicators,” she explains. “A bird’s molt pattern can be affected by how late in the breeding season it was born, nutrition, or other environmental factors.”

Nancy examines feathers of a Northern Flicker. While most songbirds can be aged only up to 2 years old, woodpeckers can be aged up to 4 years because they retain some juvenile feathers as they gain adult feathers and because of feather aging.

Both women note that the independence they were given at both Wellfleet and Monomoy was almost like running their own banding station, something each hopes to do eventually. And Lila says having her parents attend a public banding program was a definite personal highlight.

“I think it helped assure them that I am a professional in my field and that, yes, I can forge a career out of essentially being a bird bum!”

Nancy and Lila ogling that Dickcissel.

3 thoughts on “As They Take Flight, Bird Banders Reflect on Fall Migration

  1. Susan Abbott

    The banding team was so generous with their time, showing us birds in the net and letting us watch the banding operation. What a treat to see these beautiful birds up close.

  2. Diane Silverstein

    “Bird bum”! That’s the best term! Congratulations to Nancy & Lila for a great season and good luck going forward!
    P.s. Love that brown creeper!


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