Nothing beats seeing the look on a child’s face while they hold a wild bird in the palm of their hand.
While camping at Guadalupe River State Park, Austin Families in Nature attended TPWD’s “Bird in the Hand” educational bird banding program with Craig Hensley. If you ever have the chance to participate in this program, you should. We will definitely try to do it again.
We followed a ranger from the entrance to the park over to the Honey Creek Natural Area adjoining Guadaloupe River st. pk. We met up with Craig Hensley and several other bird banding volunteers out in the field.
They taught the kids a little about what they do and then got right to work, involving the kids at every step.
The park’s bird banding program is a multi-year population study in this area of the state. It creates a list of what birds come through the area, and then bands them to see where they go or if they return to the same place ever. The banders (certified) set up invisible nets in the field for a couple of hours and catch any birds that fly through.
The birds are rarely, if ever, harmed by the nets since the banders are extremely experienced. It is illegal to trap wild birds without being certified to do so – a process that takes years of training.
Once the birds are removed from the net, they are placed in a zipped laundry bag and hung on a line to wait to be banded. The birds are taken out, measured, sexed, aged, and banded one by one. The kids got to help measure the birds and look up how to age and sex (determine male or female) each bird, and 2 kids even got to help put the band on the bird’s leg.
Then each child and even a couple of the parents got to hold a bird and release it back into the wild. Some birds stayed in the kids’ hands for only a flit of a second, but a couple of them stayed longer.
During the morning (we were there for a couple of hours), all of the kids (and parents) got a close look at every single bird that was banded. They got to touch many of them.
They even got to listen to the smallest one’s super fast heart beat while Craig Hensley held it up to each of their ears. Birders talk about LBBs – Little Brown Birds. They are hard to identify from far away, they tend to be hard to even spot in the first place, you usually have to see them using a spotting scope, and they are generally kind of frustrating. From a distance, their differences seem very subtle, so even if you see them, it is hard to tell which one you are looking at. The Bird in Hand educational program made all of the LBBs so much more distinct and interesting to everyone.
Some LBBs were much bigger than others, some had beautiful golden yellow wing edges, some had striped heads, and some had striped bodies. Suddenly, by seeing the bird up close, we could tell what features to look for when we see an LBB in the wild next. Not only are the kids more able to identify different species of birds, now they can tell if a Cardinal is young or old.
hey can tell if a mockingbird is still in its first year of life by the wear and tear on its inner wing feathers (if they are frayed and worn, then they are the original flight feathers from when the bird was a fledgling – learning to fly).
The kids got to see how to measure the bird’s leg to see what size band to put on, and how to record the band number and statistics about each bird in the log book. They got to help measure the size of the bird. And they got to watch the birds get banded.
I didn’t even have to ask the kids to write about this activity in their journals, they did it on their own because they wanted to remember this incredible experience. After writing, they all glued their “bird buddy” certificates that listed the type of bird they released into their journals.
Bird in Hand made one of the most important goals of all outdoor leaders – the ability to see the world with eyes still full of wonder and amazement – very easy. Teachers of any kind that can still feel amazed by what they see are most likely to pass that amazement and wonder on to the people around them. Wonder and amazement are what make people want to learn more. I suspect that the Bird in Hand program has spawned quite a few new bird enthusiasts.