January 03, 2008 | Tips from Us >
Mackenzie, Bird Watching
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How often do you get the opportunity to see scientists checking the fat content of tiny songbirds no bigger than a tennis ball?
This was the experience I had visiting the Mackenzie Nature Observatory.
The Observatory engages in the Mackenzie Migration Monitoring Project in cooperation with the Canadian Wildlife Service.
A system of fine nets are strung through Mugaha Marsh ( about 15 km from Mackenzie) which harmlessly catch migrating birds and hold them until volunteers can bag them and transport them to the banding station in soft, cuddly fabric bags.
At the banding station, the birds are identified, weighed, measured, checked for fat content (identifies where they are in their migratory cycle) and general health. After their "check-up", the birds are released back into the marsh area.
The station is staffed by a combination of paid staff and volunteers who staff the observatory from mid-July to mid-September. Results are sent to Bird Studies Canada for inclusion in national data.
Volunteers check the nets every half hour from 6am until noon daily. To reach the nets further away from the banding station, volunteers jump on the resident bicycles and return to the station with the cheerful bird bags bobbing from their handlebars.
Once inside the banding station, the bags are hung on pegs to keep the squirming birds safe until they can be examined.
One by one, the bags are opened and a tiny feathered jewel is removed. While they seem a little bewildered, the birds are handled with such care and gentleness that they don't seem upset.
A tiny band with a unique code is tamped around the bird's leg and recorded for future reference.
Volunteers are needed to staff the station, but visitors can also drop in to see how the station works. There is an observation platform near the banding station as well.