9 days, 527 birds, 55 species | ET REALITY


On a map of the United States, you can barely see the thin strip of land that is Fort Morgan, Alabama. But the narrow peninsula (about 20 miles long and, in some places, less than half a mile wide) is immensely important. For migratory birds: it is the last land stop before flying south through the Gulf of Mexico.

Recently, the Ringed Coalition of the Americas He spent nine days in the dense vegetation of Fort Morgan, carefully capturing birds in mist nets, placing small bands on their legs, and releasing them back into the world for their long journey across the water.

By the end of the event, BCA co-founders Emma Rhodes and Kyle Shepard, along with a team of approximately 10 trained and federally licensed volunteers, had captured and banded 527 birds of 55 different species.

Seeing birds up close and holding them in your hand can be transformative, said Rhodes, 28, an avian biologist and Ph.D. student at Auburn University. “It can really change people’s lives and give them new perspectives on why birds are important, why this habitat is important, why this habitat shouldn’t just be condos,” she said.

Ms. Rhodes and Mr. Shepard received bird banding training in Fort Morgan as young people, when their mentors, Bob and Martha Sargent, ran a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds and other migrants. neotropical. The Sargents have since passed away, and in 2020, Ms. Rhodes and Mr. Shepard founded BCA as a way to continue the work.

Shepard, 30, started playing in Fort Morgan when he was 12 years old. When people are interested in volunteering, he said, “My first question is, well, how much time do you have to devote to it? Because it will be the rest of your life: training never ends.”

Still, Rhodes added, offering people the opportunity to volunteer was important to both of them. “We had the advantage and privilege of training at a very young age and really feeling like that changed our direction and our trajectory in life for the better,” Ms. Rhodes said.

The data collected by BCA is communicated to the Bird banding laboratorya program run by the United States Geological Survey which, in collaboration with the Canadian Bird Banding Bureau, administers the North American Bird Banding Program.

Of course, birds know no boundaries. BCA’s catch-and-release species are simply making a stop in Alabama. “A lot of times we say, oh, North American species, but they’re actually not North American species,” Ms. Rhodes said. “They are everywhere in America and we are sharing them.”

The team often finds surprises in the networks. “This year we ringed a western tanager, which wasn’t supposed to be there,” Rhodes said, laughing; The bird’s typical habitat is further west. And he added: “We also banded two Western wooden banks” – again, not an Eastern species.

The records collected by the BCA will help scientists find broader trends. “We could be seeing an increased presence of western birds each year, and that’s something that needs to be documented,” Rhodes said.

Ultimately, he added, one of the organization’s goals is to share and exchange data with other regions: “Especially with people in the tropics, because you have to understand the entire annual cycle to conserve birds,” he said. “You can’t just study them in winter.”

Ms Rhodes said she also enjoyed seeing birds up close, even species that are common. Among her favorites is the male American redstart, nicknamed the Halloween bird for its black and orange feathers. She associates it with Fort Morgan, especially in the fall. “We grouped a lot of them together,” she said. They are important to the ecosystem and to the work she has dedicated her life to, she said. But also: “They’re just pretty birds.”

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