[WATCH] Oglethorpe biology students track birds for continent-wide conservation effort

Four Oglethorpe students spent this summer tracking local birds as part of the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program, a large-scale effort that helps preserve birds and their habitats.

Five students at an outdoor table with various scientific implements

Students at the bird banding table

Under the guidance of professor of biology Dr. Roarke Donnelly, students worked from early morning to late afternoon catching, recording and releasing birds around Oglethorpe’s campus, gaining valuable experience monitoring and tracking the inhabitants of a local ecosystem.

Each day, the team of students set up special, hard-to-see nets called “mist nets” to harmlessly capture as many local birds as they could. Birds were then measured and thoroughly examined, given a unique tag called a “bird band” that helps re-identify the bird later, and quickly released back into the wild.

The students who participated in this project were: Jaziba Bahri ’23, Josh Escobar ’24, Zack Jackson ’23, and Sydney Trammell ’24.

“The students benefit from this because they can participate in the program, learn skills like setting up nets, pulling birds out of nets, processing them for data collection — all of which help us to get those demographic parameters,” says Donnelly. “For them, putting the MAPS banding experience on their CV will help them gain entry to professional or grad school or get that first job in conservation biology or wildlife management.”

A large bird known as a northern flicker

A large Northern Flicker was one of the many birds observed this summer

Powered by the collaborative efforts of volunteer scientists from across the continent, the MAPS banding program collects massive amounts of data — almost 2.5 million birds have been logged since 1989 — that informs conservation biologists about important population trends. Parameters known as vital rates help scientists understand the factors behind explosive population growth and precipitous decline.

Oglethorpe University is one of the only universities in the state of Georgia recognized as an official MAPS bird banding site by the Institute for Bird Populations. The university is surrounded by a rich forest — perfect for many of Oglethorpe’s biology and environmental studies students to study the many creatures that live there.

*Note: Dr. Roarke Donnelly maintains state and federal licenses and permits for trapping and handling birds. All birds are caught, handled and released according to best practices published by the North American Banding Council.

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