A Common Cause

Alexis Diaz with a Western scrub-jay

Alexis Diaz with a Western scrub-jay

I was extremely excited when I met Alexis Diaz, a fellow Peruvian participating in the KBO bird banding internship. I don’t see many Peruvians these days, especially in the sciences working in bird conservation, so I was intrigued by his background and experience. He has not been in the country for long, in fact he traveled from Lima to Oregon this past May to obtain his bird banding certification and become a banding trainer. He will bring his knowledge and skills back to our home country, where he is in charge of the Santa Eulalia Corbidi Banding Station (Estación de Anillamiento Santa Eulalia Corbidi). It is exciting to see the kind of avian conservation work that is taking place in Peru and I’d like to share it with you.

The Santa Eulalia Corbidi Banding Station has been active since 2010 and it is part of the Corbidi’s (Center of Ornithology and Biodiversity) Banding Program. The banding station is one of five and is located in the Santa Eulalia river basin, just a few hours from the capital of Peru. This area is home to four endemic species to Peru, the black-necked woodpecker, rusty-bellied brush finch, rusty-crowned tit-spinetail, and bronze-tailed comet, which little are known about. Their mission is to better understand the life history of the avian population in this part of the Andes, looking at productivity, longevity, survival, distribution, molt patters, and morphology of birds. They also aim at offering training to college students and provide educational sessions to the community on birds, their science and conservation. The field station is volunteer-based, hosting monthly banding outings to do their work. Participants involved get to camp for a weekend and hike through the beautiful mountains while bird watching and banding, essentially offering conservation or homestay tourism for Peruvians and foreigners.

The environmental group in action

The environmental group in action

In terms of their practices, they follow the same code of ethics as we do here in with Klamath Bird Observatory and in fact they use the exact same manual, the North American Bander’s Manual and Study Guide. In 2012, they operated for eight months, accounting for 704 hours of open net time. During this time, they observed 36 species of birds from 18 different families, the majority being tyrant flycatchers at 19%, followed by hummingbirds at 16%. In terms of banding efforts, they captured 226 birds from 20 different species, the most common being the rufous-collared sparrow. That year they had a total of 23 recaptured individuals contributing to a 10% recapture rate. This offers great input into determining migratory routes and rest areas of birds. So far this year, they’ve had great success, banding 918 individuals from 33 different species, recapturing 214 individuals and increasing the recapture rate to 13.51%!

I am excited to see  what kind of findings the Santa Eulalia station will have in the future. For now, their plan is to compile information from the many specimens they have to create an identification book of peruvian birds similar to Pyle’s “Identification Guide to North American Birds”. It is comforting to know that there is a dedicated group of people in Peru that are working towards conserving endemic species and its habitats. I encourage you to take part on this conservation and get in contact with the Santa Eulalia Banding Station if you are thinking of visiting Peru and want a unique and unforgettable experience. There are opportunities for banding not only in Santa Eulalia, but also northern Peru, in Piura and Ica, as well as, in the rainforests of Madre de Dios.


The Santa Eulalia banding crew

For more information visit their Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/EstacionDeAnillamientoSantaEulaliaCorbidi?fref=tsh  or contact them at anillamiento.opica@corbidi.org

Hello, you’ve got mail!

From: Passenger Pigeon

To: Me and You!

I’ve been thinking lately, that many of us don’t know that birds are truly the messengers of the natural world. When you think of a bird messenger, if you’re like me at least, then you think of a pharaoh from ancient times, in his robes made of the finest silks and gold, delicately placing the characters of an urgent message on a papyrus scroll, which he then roles up to give to his falcon as it flies off into the distant desert sunset. Very Hollywood right? But in reality while historically there has been some “avian delivery,” the real message that they bring is more subtle and of greater importance.

They are, in some cases, the sole indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem; a task that is so perfectly achieved by them. Everyone has heard of the ‘canaries in the mine’ reference, so it’s known that birds are greatly affect by there surroundings. With that being said, do you wonder how many researchers are looking at the responses that birds are having to the environment?

Well many actually, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on a Webninar hosted by Allison Vogt, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Ken Rosenburg, Cornell Lab of Ornithology where they went over the NABCI State of the Birds Report for 2014. For those of us who don’t know what the State of the Bird Report or the NABCI are, let me shed some light. The State of the Bird Report is one of 5 yearly reports that goes back to 2009, which uses data from citizen science groups like North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to analyze the populations of birds in distinct ecological habitats as a way of understanding the trends of the populations in those habitats and the environments themselves. NABCI is a congregation of federal agencies, conservation organizations and others that together work to maintain happy and healthy bird life in North America; and thanks to all the hard work and collaboration we now have a “report card” as Allison put it, for how effective our conservation efforts are. There are people looking at the affects of our environmental manipulation on birds, and while many species are in decline there are still some hope.

So I encourage you to read the report if you haven’t already, it isn’t technical, long or confusing; it’s main audience is policy makers and the general public. Learn about what habitat you belong to and the severity of the decline of species. Understand how appropriate governmental policies can bring about change for birds, the environment and yourself. Don’t let the messages that our feathery friends are sending go unread.



Las Aves de Cali- Colombia (The birds of Cali- Colombia)

(La traducción al Español está por debajo de la sección en Inglés)

Living in Cali- Colombia is an opportunity that I am happy to have experienced in my life. As someone born and raised in Los Angeles Cali-fornia, the city life is something that I am very familiar with, but unlike Los Angeles, in the city of Cali you wake up to the sound of wild parrots flying overhead each morning! When I recently arrived I was puzzled to hear an unfamiliar call each night, I thought to myself that it was strange that a bird would be calling/singing at night. To my surprise, I was told it was not a bird- it was a non-native gecko (Lepididactylus lugubris)! Since then, I try to catch a glimpse of the little geckos, but they are very shy and my excitement for them is not appreciated.


The first bird that I identified from outside my host families living room window was the very noisy great kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus). The great kiskadee is a large flycatcher, a very beautiful and common bird here in Cali. Just like the varied thrushes’ songs bring my nostalgia for my time in Cordova- Alaska, I know the sound of the great kiskadee will be the bird that reminds me of my time here in the city of Cali. Aside from the great kisadee, there are numerous other species that I have never seen in my life that I frequently observe in the city, as I walk to work at the Calidris Associations office. The ruddy ground dove (Columbina talpacoti) is a small New World tropical dove that fascinates me every time I see it. Not only because it reminds me of the doves of my city, but due to its size! These little doves, just like the least sandpipers I saw in Cordova, trigger an amusement due to their size, measuring about 17 cm (~6.7 in) in length! Other common birds that I see in the city are blue-gray tanagers (Thraupis episcopus), saffron finchs (Sicalis flaveola), vermilion flycatchers (Pyrocephalus rubinus), and smooth-billed anis (Crotophaga ani)


It’s a whole new ball game when you step out of the city. I had the opportunity to do so this weekend and wow, I am speechless! The amount of diversity and beauty exceeds that of my childhood dreams. My dreams that were derived from books and documentaries based in Colombia- South America were now my reality. Accompanying me was Jeisson who works as a biological field technician with Calidris and is an amazing birder, and Jo Se a biologist and friend of Jeisson’s. Throughout our 7 hour birding adventure Jeisson made sure to document all of our bird encounters. We came to a total of 62 species, of which 61 of these species were new to me (lifers). I share with you a few photographs that I took of my lifers:

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Thank you for reading and stay tuned to hear about my adventure with Calidris during their first every Rail Rally in Colombia!

Rally flyer



Poder vivir en la ciudad de Cali – Colombia es una experiencia que me hace feliz. Como alguien nacida y criada en Los Angeles California, la vida de la ciudad es algo con que estoy muy familiarizada pero, a diferencia de Los Angeles, ¡en la ciudad de Cali me despierto con el grito de los loros silvestres volando sobre la casa cada mañana! Cuando recién llegué me quedé perpleja al escuchar una llamada extraña cada noche, me dije a mí misma ¿que será ese extraño pájaro que canta cada noche? Pero para mi sorpresa, me dijeron que no era un pájaro, ¡era una lagartija (Lepididactylus lugubris) que no son nativas a Colombia! Desde entonces, intento mirar a las pequeñas lagartijas, pero son muy tímidas y mi emoción no es apreciada por ellas.


La primer ave que identifique desde la ventana de la primera familia que me adoptó durante mi pasantía (Fernando y Diana) fue el muy ruidoso Pitangus sulphuratus. Pitangus sulphuratus es un gran atrapamoscas, muy hermoso y un ave común aquí en Cali. Al igual que la canción de Ixoreus naevius que me trae nostalgia de mi tiempo en Cordova, Alaska, sé que el llamado de Pitangus sulphuratus será el ave que me recordará de mi aventura aquí en Cali. Aparte de Pitangus sulphuratus, hay muchas otras especies que nunca he visto en mi vida que se observan con frecuencia en la ciudad y durante el camino a la oficina de la Asociación Calidris. Columbina talpacoti, es una pequeña paloma/tortolita del nuevo mundo tropical que me fascina cada vez que la veo. No sólo porque me recuerda a las palomas/tortolitas de mi ciudad, sino también por su tamaño. Estas pequeñas palomas/tortolitas al igual que Calidris minutilla que vi en Cordova, desencadenan una admiración debido a su tamaño de 17 cm (6.7 pulgadas) de longitud. Otras aves comunes que he visto en la ciudad son Thraupis episcopus, Sicalis flaveola, Pyrocephalus rubinus y Crotophaga ani.


Es completamente diferente al salir de la ciudad. Tuve la oportunidad de vivirlo este fin de semana, y ¡guau, no tengo palabras para explicarlo! La cantidad de diversidad y belleza supera a la de mis sueños de infancia. Mis sueños que derivan de los libros y documentales basados en Colombia – Sur de América son ahora mi realidad. Durante este viaje de aventura para observar aves me acompañó Jeisson, quien trabaja como biólogo con Calidris y es un increíble pajarero, también fue Jo Sé un biólogo que es amigo de Jeisson. Durante nuestra aventura de siete horas, Jeisson registró todas las aves que observamos. Llegando a un total de 62 especies, de las cuales ¡61 eran nuevas para mí (lifer)! Comparto con ustedes algunas fotografías que he tomado de mis “lifers”:


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¡Muchas gracias por leer y continúen atentos para aprender sobre mi aventura con Calidris durante el primer Rally de Rálidos en Colombia!
Rally flyer


Study, study, study!

In return for the service of its volunteers, Klamath Bird Observatory offers a Bander certification and a Trainer certification. Stephanie and I are soon to put our skills to the test through the written component of the Bander certification. To prepare, I am hiding away in coffee shops over the weekends to frantically cram information into my brain on the history of bird banding, technique of handling birds, how to read molt limits, what kinds of birds ornithologists study, the life cycle of birds, what birds like to eat, where birds live, why birds migrate…the list goes on and on. In the spirit of learning, I thought I’d share a study material I created on the taxonomy of songbirds.

Taxonomy is the science of categorizing organisms. The categories follow a ladder system, cascading from Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and sometimes Subspecies. Birds are listed under the Order Aves, similarly the word in Spanish for bird is “Aves.” Under this umbrella, birds are then split into different categories known as “Orders.” For our purposes at KBO, we are primarily looking at songbirds, under the Order for Passeriformes. For our exam, we must know the different families of songbirds, which are divided based on the specific characteristics such as the amount of flight feathers each species has.

The flight feathers are broken into three groups: the primaries, the secondaries, and the rectrices. The primary and secondary feathers are the flight feathers of the wings while the rectrices are the tail feathers. The wing flight feathers closest to the body are the secondaries, with the three closest feathers (secondaries 6-9) being called tertials. Most Passeriformes will have 9 secondaries. At the bird’s carpal joint, located at the bend of the wing, a new set of flight feathers emerge: the primaries. Passeriformes may have anywhere between 9-13 primaries. The attached table (click the link to Songbird Familes) is my attempt to memorize which family has how many of each type of feather. I hope you find this a useful tool too, for when you’re wanting to geek out to some bird biology.

Here is a visual overview of a bird's flight feathers.  Source: http://swartzentrover.com/cotor/Photos/Hiking/Birds/BirdPages/Anatomy/Anatomy.htm

Here is a visual overview of a bird’s flight feathers.
Source: http://swartzentrover.com/cotor/Photos/Hiking/Birds/BirdPages/Anatomy/Anatomy.htm

Songbird Families -feathers

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

IMG_6080This weekend bird lovers from around the country and abroad came together for the 89th Western Bird Banding Association Annual Meeting. This year, the Humbolt Bay Bird Observatory (HHBO) hosted the three-day event in the beautiful beach dunes of the Humbolt Bay Wildlife Refuge in Arcata, CA. Early morning bird walks allowed attendees to explore such pristine dunes where several chickadees, bushtits, ban swallows, sanderlings, black-bellied plovers, and western and least sandpipers were observed.

Later in the day, several workshops were offered. I was able to practice adjusting and replacing songbird bands on dolls making me feel more comfortable about doing so in the field with real birds. A discussion on dealing with mist netting-related injuries such as wing strain, tarsus fracture, inter-tarsal joint dislocation, and heat/cold stress, were given at the first aid station. Another station had a demonstration on the proper way of removing raptors from nets and techniques for aging them, which I found helpful since a few sharp-shined hawks had been caught the previous week by the KBO team. There were also examples of geolocators, used for seeing migratory destinations and blooding techniques for parasite analysis. All of the workshops were interesting and engaging, allowing for open communication with some of the experts.

Band adjustment table

Band adjustment table

Raptor banding table

Raptor banding table

On the presentations aspect, several focused on the classification of age and molt patterns of specific birds. This is a topic often discussed among bird banders who seek for clarification and consensus. For this, I found Jarred Wolfe‘s talk very interesting, who came up with a new system on the classification of age that is based on molt cycles and not the calendar year as it is currently used in North America. His system, the WRP (Wolfe- Ryder-Pyle), applies for birds that lack breeding seasonality or breed across January 1st such as in the southern hemisphere. This system has gained popularity and it is now used in many countries in South America. It was especially useful that one of the presentations focused on taking listeners through the step-by-step theory and application of this system.

Wolfe made quiet the impression not only by coining a new model but also by his additional studies in the Neotropic and Equatorial Guinea. He studied bird community structure, survival, and population growth in second-growth and forest fragmentations in Brazil. He aimed at reconsidering the ecological value of regenerating forests and found that forest fragments adjacent to second growth were more diverse than similar-sized fragments lacking adjacent second growth. Additionally, he found that these more diverse larger fragments were able to sustain bird communities similar to continuous primary forests. Now, his newest project involves pioneering avian research and conservation in Equatorial Guinea. This is a country where few ornithologists have gone and where development has skyrocketed due to oil discoveries. Wolfe plans on making his second trip to the country in the coming year, where him and his team will continue to search and understand the birds living in the primitive forests before they development takes over.

The WBBA meeting was definitely a success with bird banders sharing their passion and work with others in the community. I feel exhilarated by the workshop presenters and lecture speakers such as Jarred Wolfe who are making cutting-edge research in remote locations of the world. There is indeed a lot of work to do and many future career possibilities in bird banding. Meetings like WBBA are essential and I cannot wait to see what next year’s conference has to offer.