Second-grade students learn about bird banding at Audubon observatory

Thursday, September 20, 2012 | 8:16 p.m. CDT
Second-graders from Russell Boulevard and Lee Expressive Arts elementary schools took a field trip Thursday to the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary. The students watched demonstrations on bird banding.

Slowly pulling her drawstring bag open and cupping the scared animal inside, Dana Ripper anticipated the pinch of its tiny beak tugging on her skin. Pulling her hand out of the bag, she revealed a bright red Northern cardinal, and holding it by its feet, walked the bird up to the eager second-grade students whose eyes lit up with excitement.

Ripper, co-founder and director of the Missouri River Bird Observatory, demonstrated bird banding Thursday as a part of Columbia Public Schools nature field trip at the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary.

The field trip was a partnership between Columbia Audubon Society, Columbia Public Schools, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Songbird Station.

Russell Boulevard and Lee Expressive Arts elementary schools arrived at 9:30 a.m. and rotated students among six stations. Fairview and Midway Heights elementary schools participated in an afternoon session.

The demonstration involved slipping small, numbered metal bands on the legs of birds, measuring their wings and tails and noting their strength by blowing on the feathers to reveal muscles.

The birds were placed, head first, into a small tube on a scale to determine their weight. Once all of the data were recorded, the birds were set free.

The male cardinal Ripper was examining had a wing length of 95 millimeters, a tail measuring 88 millimeters and a weight of 44.8 grams.

Organizers set up “invisible” nets around the sanctuary early Thursday morning in hopes of capturing birds to band.

“We were really lucking this morning to have birds for every group,” Ripper said Thursday afternoon.

She said they also had birds to band during the afternoon session. 

Ethan Duke, co-founder and assistant director of the bird observatory, said banding is a methodology they use for many different purposes.

“Birds are not only really cool and fun, but they’re a great indicator of habitats,” he said. “And they also tell us about the quality of the environment.”

By doing physical assessments of the birds they catch, the observatory gains information about age and sex ratios, Duke said.

“I like that you can actually see what’s out there,” Joanna Klass, an intern with the bird observatory, said. “Right now, we just look, and we might not see any birds. But then you put the net up, and you get really surprised at what you see.”

Mike Szydlowski, K-12 science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said all second-grade classes in the district were invited to participate, but only four that are studying ecology in the fall were selected for Thursday’s outing.

Szydlowski said the other interested schools will be invited in the spring.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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