Thursday, October 27, 2011

American Oystercatcher Banding

Banded shorebirds at Cedar Key, Florida
The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is participating in a multistate banding project to monitor American Oystercatchers.
The oystercatcher is an especially easy bird to survey during fall migration due to its distinct features. Not only do they stand apart from other shorebird species with their unique orange bill and striking coloration, but color bands help us determine individuals as well.  Banding efforts have been underway in New Jersey since 2004 in order to give insight to researchers regarding the
oystercatcher’s breeding habits, pair behavior, and migration patterns. About 300 oystercatchers have been banded in New Jersey to date, including a significant percentage of the state’s estimated 400 breeding pairs.

Adult oystercatchers are captured every year during their breeding season using a trap called a noose carpet.  This flat trap, which is covered in noose knots, is partially buried under the sand near the oystercatcher’s nest. A wooden decoy is placed in the middle of the trap.  When the breeding pair catches sight of the decoy imposter, they approach it to defend their territory and get caught in the trap.  Once trapped, researchers place two orange bands with a two letter/digit code, denoting that they were caught in New Jersey, and one silver U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band on their legs. They also take a variety of body measurements and obtain a DNA sample from a feather for further research.  Chicks are also banded a few weeks after hatching and before they are able to fly.

The process of banding oystercatchers, while time consuming, has taught us many important things.  Among many other findings, banded birds have helped us confirm that oystercatchers are long living, and exhibit strong site fidelity and pair bonds.  Individual color bands have also shown us their migration route, as well as how long they stay at their migration stopover sites and wintering grounds.
Oystercatchers banded in each state covered by the project are given a different color band. If you happen to spot a color-banded oystercatcher, you can report the observation to the American Oystercatcher Working Group.