Spring Brings Birds and Banders

It’s always exciting to have bird research back at Wellfleet Bay where bird banding on the property dates back to the 1920’s. Last year the spring migrants returned, but the bird banders could not due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Banding station operator James Junda and his second bander (and spouse) Valerie Bourdeau were able to resume operations in the fall, but were limited to managing with just one volunteer per shift to check up to 25 mist nets each hour. “For COVID safety reasons we could only use volunteers capable of extracting birds on their own,” James reports. Experienced volunteers were a big help, but James says he also looks forward to being able to bring back a few more volunteers this year when conditions allow.

Socially distanced but still working together. Volunteer Jeannette Bragger (left) records data last fall as banders James and Val call it out.

Last year’s fall migration was productive. James reports the most species diversity since the station began operations in 2014, with 81 species recorded. The banders also had a rare “foreign” recapture—a young Gray Catbird they netted at the end of September that had been banded across the bay in Brewster earlier in the month.

It was an especially good fall for catbirds, which was the station’s most common species last year. Despite the summer’s severe drought, a number of plants at the sanctuary produced a good crop of berries and fruit-loving birds, like catbirds, cardinals, and vireos responded.

“Another fruit-eating species, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, had its biggest fall ever at the station and was the fourth on our “most captured” list,” James notes. But he also notes, the banding station in Brewster reported a drop in yellow-rumps, which shows why it’s important to look at data both locally, regionally, and throughout the flyway to draw meaningful conclusions.

This Swainson’s Thrush was one of 8 captured last fall. Usually, the banding station gets only a few.

Nevertheless, fruit-eating birds were definitely a recurring theme in Wellfleet last fall. The station also banded higher than usual numbers of far less common fruit lovers: Swainson’s Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

There was also a new species for the banding station in 2020—a Common Redpoll. This bird wasn’t here for fruit, but was part of the flood of “winter finches” that poured into the area due to to a poor seed crop in their usual wintering grounds in the far northern US and Canada.

A Common Redpoll shows the red on the head that gives it its common name. Adult males also
have a rosy wash on the chest, indicating this bird was either an adult female or a hatch year bird.

Below are the top 30 species recorded for each of the past 7 fall banding seasons.

2 thoughts on “Spring Brings Birds and Banders

    1. Wellfleet Bay Post author

      Hi, Rose,

      Please send an email to [email protected] and let them know of your interest. At the moment, they’re using only existing volunteers but hope to open it up to additional folks later on. They also band in the fall, which is a longer season. Thanks for your interest!


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