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Public witnesses science at bird-banding event in Missoula

Milltown State Park a good area to track birds
Gray Catbird captured and banded by University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab Avian Field Technician Boo Curry.
Posted at 3:35 PM, Jun 19, 2021

MISSOULA — At this educational event at Milltown State Park in Missoula, the public is getting a chance to get up close and personal with birds in the wild, with the help of bird biologists.

A tiny, winged creature flitters off into the wild after avian field technician Boo Curry releases it. She's one of several team members Saturday working in the field tracking wild birds.

“We're out here. We're doing what's called the Bird's-Eye View Education Program,” avian ecologist Mike Krzywicki told MTN News.

On Saturday, a small crowd gathered to observe scientists handle wild birds enabling an understanding of the ecosystem’s health. It’s a partnership between the University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab and Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

The main objective: bird banding.

The scientists set up nets in the very early hours of the day. Then, periodically, they will check to see if any birds have been caught.

“We check the nets every half an hour and every bird that is in a net we put in one of these bags. And it's just kind of a calm, cool place for them to hang out while we're getting to the other birds," Krzywicki explained.

Avian Field Technician Boo Curry untangles captured bird for science
At a bird banding event open to the public, scientists use nets to survey birds

"Once we get back to the banding station, we'll take the bird out of the bag, and we'll put a unique and aluminum band with unique nine-digit number on their wrist," he continued.

Banding a bird with a unique number helps scientists better understand population trends and to re-identify them if caught in the future. The band is not noticeable to the bird.

Aluminum band is placed on each captured bird
Avian Ecologist Mike Krzywicki handles bird at Milltown State Park educational event.

“We also do some things like check and see how much fat they have on their body. If they're growing any feathers, we measure their wing...and we weigh them and then let them go,” Krzywicki said.

Milltown State Park, at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, is a good area to track bird population health.

“Scientists are detecting pretty dramatic bird declines throughout North America,” Krzywicki said.

The surrounding vegetation at the park has been restored significantly in recent years, and these riparian areas are vital habitat for Montana’s birds.

“It's always really exciting to see the birds and just to see how the riparian areas, you know, the vegetation along the rivers are recovering and offering bird habitat," Mike Kustudia, Milltown State Park manager, told MTN News.

Milltown’s story is one of success. The landscape has been cleaned up after a dam was removed a little over 10 years ago.

“There's a lot of scientific knowledge to be gathered from it, you know, from scratch basically,” Kustudia said.

The achievement culminates into public outreach and education.

“We're really excited this year that we're actually having public events again. We've had a few already and we've got more on tap,” Kustudia said, mentioning the public can always check their social media for event updates.

Bird banding does typically happen throughout the week but this special event was held on Saturday to invite the public.