MAPS Banding at Francis Beidler Forest

The MAPS banding station at Francis Beidler Forest, a four year summary.

 The MAPS banding program is a continent-wide collaborative effort among different institutions, nonprofits, government and non-government organizations. MAPS stands for Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship. Francis Beidler Forests’ MAPS station was established in 2017, which makes the breeding season of 2020 the fourth running season. As with everything in 2020, conditions weren’t ideal and we hit a few snags of the non-arboreal kind, and well, some of the arboreal kind too, I mean, it’s a forest, you can’t avoid all of them in the dark.   

We often enjoy the help and company of our wonderful and tough-as-nails volunteers at the banding station, who brave unfathomably early wake up times, manic swarms of eyeball poking yellow flies, and humidity so thick you can slice it with a knife. This year, due to Covid-19, we took on the MAPS season with only three staff to ensure safety of our wonderful volunteers.  


Another fun aspect of this season was the roller coaster ride that the weather took us on. The first three MAPS sessions were delightfully chilly and cool, warranting the donning of a light jacket, to the absolute delight of the cold-blooded bander, JenUsually we get one cooler morning for the first session in May, then it’s hot and humid for the rest of the season. The wet Spring we had provided some challenges of it’s own, while it provided for cooler temps and lots of happy plants, it wreaked havoc with trying to predict the weather. Day 3 started with a 30% chance of rain and not a blip on the radar. When we arrived in the dark, we noticed a light sprinkling and shrugged it off and began our net opening routine only to have the 30% chance of rain predicted slowly build, and finally result in a downpour as we rushed to furl nets a few hours later. After our misguided denial and poorly placed optimism, as well as not wanting our wake-up time of 3:45 am to go to waste, we deflated into the reality that day 3 was a total and utter wash out.  



July came with it’s steamy temperatures, and with it came a month-long quarantine and case of Covid-19 for Jen and family. Nolan answered the call of duty and joined Matt to run two banding days while we waited out our quarantine (not to worry, we had a very mild case and were very lucky! Just bored... and missing society in our isolation). One of those days Matt and Nolan caught an unexpected bird, a very early migrant, a fat loaded Louisianna Waterthrush! This species is one of the earlier migrants and it goes to show migration is a long process and starts as soon as breeding ends for some species. I would argue there are two seasons for birds -- breeding and non-breeding -- and there’s nothing but movement to transition between the two.  

A Louisiana Waterthrush banded by Matt and Nolan in July.
This Louisiana Waterthrush was a delightful surprise to Matt and Nolan. This bird was loaded with fat stores, meaning it was migrating! The accumulated fat is something you typically only see in songbirds during migration in preparation for their high energy demanding journey to South and Central America. Photo: Nolan Schillerstrom


All in all it was a successful MAPS season with one missed session due to Covid-19, and one wash out day, considering other stations couldn’t operate at all under the circumstances, we’ll call it a win! Keep in mind when comparing annual numbers in the figures below, that we had those two days (one missed, and the other a wash out) with no birds captured. So considering that we missed about 20% of the season, the numbers are too drastically different from other year’s totals.  


A graph showing the totals of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020
This graph shows the total captures, between newly banded birds and recaptured birds. 2018 had the highest level of captures and it decreased in 2019, and stayed close to level in 2020 but remember 2020 had two fewer field days than 2019.

Below are some of the stats for this year and total stats for all 4 years, as well as some interesting recaptures from this year and highlights.  


A pie chart showing the proportions of species captured
You can see the Carolina Wren, Hooded Warbler, and Northern Cardinal are our most often captured species.
A graph showing a fairly consistent trend of Carolina Wrens over the four years
This graph shows the capture rate of Carolina Wrens, which has remained pretty steady over the four years.
A graph showing Northern Cardinal trends over the four years with a low in 2019
This figure shows that Cardinals had a low year in 2019 but increased in 2020
A graph showing the trends of Hooded Warblers over the four years.
This graph is one that stands out. Hooded Warblers were one of the most common birds we processed in the first two years, but dropped off noticeably in 2019 and 2020. This could be due to annual trends, changes in the habitat, or perhaps other factors unknown.
Two pie charts showing the proportion of Age and Sex
By age, most birds were aged as adults, and sex ratios were pretty evenly divided. Those who couldn't be sexed were mostly young birds, or birds where the males and females have brood patches, which can make sexing individuals difficult.
A male and female comparison photo of Summer Tanagers
This is a Male and Female Summer Tanager, our "other red bird". After Second Year Males are bright red, and a little more of a pink / cherry red compared to the crimson red of a Cardinal. The females and juveniles are a sunny yellow color. Photo: Jen McCarthey Tyrrell
Three Northern Cardinals in a row in hand
These three Cardinals all look a little bit different. From the left, we have a juvenile bird, sex unknown at this point, but the dark bill gives away it's age! The next bird is an adult male who's the most recognizable of the group, with a bright orange bill and red plumage. The far right is an adult female Cardinal, with browner plumage, and the bright orange bill. That bill color comes from carotenoids in their food! Photo: Jen McCarthey Tyrrell
A Swainson's Warbler in hand
This is a much sought after bird, and another one of the "Bottomland Baker's Dozen", the ghost bird, or a Swainson's Warbler. In 2017 and 2018 a previously banded Swainson's Warbler was processed and it turns out it was the longevity record for the species! It was the longest living Swainson's Warbler on record at 11 years old! Photo: Jen McCarthey Tyrrell
A Kentucky Warbler in hand at Francis Beidler Forest
This is another member of the Bottomland Baker's Dozen, the Kentucky Warbler, that is one of 13 priority species for habitat management in the Bird Friendly Forestry Program. Photo: Jen McCarthey Tyrrell

How you can help, right now