Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

December 3, 2018

Alex Sharp releases a bird into Christy Woods
Alex Sharp, a graduate student in the Cerulean Warbler Research Lab, releases a bird into Christy Woods during a morning of bird banding.

While the typical person may have a hard time getting started during the predawn hours of Monday mornings, that is when Brandon Connare and Alex Sharp are gearing up a project to study bird migration throughout Indiana.

Hours before the sun rises, Connare and Sharp are starting their weekly ritual in Ball State’s Christy Woods unpacking equipment, setting up nets and preparing for their weekly fall migration bird banding demonstration, a practice that supports the study of avian species throughout the world.

“Bird banding is a fantastic way to observe and learn about songbird migration and stopover habitat,” said Connare, a graduate student from Buffalo, New York. “Many of the birds we band in Christy Woods are long-distance migrants and are stopping to refuel in Muncie while on their route from Canada to Central or South America.”

Banding involves capturing birds, placing an identification band around a leg and releasing the birds back into the wild. Ball State’s bird banding station is located in Christy Woods, an outdoor teaching laboratory for the University’s students, as well as the community. Located on the southwest corner of campus, the 17-acre property filled with mature deciduous forest, tall grass prairie, and other plant communities.

Brandon Connare shows community members the art of bird banding in Christy Woods

Brandon Connare, a graduate student in the Cerulean Warbler Research Lab, shows community members the art of bird banding in Christy Woods.

The station was established in 2017 by the previous graduate students of the Cerulean Warbler Research Lab. As the newest graduate students of this lab, Sharp and Connare now lead this lab and these demonstrations.

“With both of our backgrounds and our enthusiasm for bird banding, we were happy to continue banding for the school,” Sharp, from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, said. “I am always looking for the opportunity to band in new areas, and to teach individuals about the importance of banding.”

Sharp began banding birds in the spring of 2014 at the banding station at Penn State Dubois. With a good grasp on the art, he improved his skills by working with a master bander in Pennsylvania’s Alleghany National Forest, learning advanced methods of aging and sexing songbirds which led him to receive a sub-permit to band songbirds.

Connare spent the last five years working as a field technician on avian research projects, a few of which were at bird banding stations. While working in these positions, he helped to band a large number of birds daily throughout their fall migration.

During the semester, the duo has watched dozens of local residents and school children witness a bird banding.

“There has not been a single person who hasn’t been excited to hold a bird, and even if they do not retain all of the information that we present, it is obvious that they leave with a deeper appreciation of birds,” Sharp said. “It’s also a great opportunity to teach people about why the conservation of songbirds is so important.