Bird Banding

RAS Sponsors Bird Research

Prothonotary Warbler – Photo by Julie Kacmarcik

Since 1998, Richmond Audubon has provided funding and person-power to study the breeding success and adult survival of songbirds. Our site is one of over 500 North American locations set up to learn why birds breed successfully (or why they don’t) and why adult birds survive from one year to the next.

MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) – is the national program coordinated by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP). Richmond Audubon’s site is operated by Master Bird Bander, Bob Reilly, with help from a number of faithful volunteers. For five years the study site was located north of the James River about 40 miles west of Richmond. Since 2003, the MAPS site is at Powhatan Wildlife Management Area, also 40 miles west of Richmond, but south of the James River.

What do Bob Reilly and the Audubon volunteers do to study the birds? Eight mornings each summer, very early mornings, they capture the birds in mist nets, band the birds, and then examine them and record the information IBP is seeking (age, sex, weight etc). Wing examination, for instance, can help to determine the bird’s age, and whether or not it has begun the Fall molt. As soon as the information is recorded, the bird is released unharmed. The IBP specifies what and how the information is recorded. The Federal Bird Banding Laboratory regulates the overall operation to assure that birds are handled safely and data are recorded accurately.

Pileated Woodpecker – Photo by Julie Kacmarcik

Over the fifteen years the Institute for Bird Populations has coordinated MAPS, they have made a variety of interesting and useful findings:

  • IBP has found that the smaller birds that migrate long distances (the Neotropics) have a higher year-to-year survival than small birds which migrate to temperate climates such as Georgia and north Florida.
  • IBP has determined the minimum habitat size needed to successfully breed for several bird species. This is a finding which could useful to organizations such as the Department of Defense which manage large tracts of land with multiple uses.
  • Richmond Audubon’s MAPS study is only a very small part of the larger study. However, we have had some intriguing findings too. Approximately ten percent of the birds we capture are recaptured in subsequent years. This includes the year-round residents as well as the migrants who return to the site where they were born or nested previously. One of our recaptures was an Indigo Bunting that we captured every year for five years. That makes her quite a “frequent flyer”. We estimate she covered more than 20,000 in those five years, flying between Goochland County and her wintering ground in Mexico.

Great Crested Flycatcher – Photo by Julie Kacmarcik

For more information – about MAPS results go to The Institute For Bird Populations website at:

Do you want to learn more about Richmond Audubon’s MAPS study? Do you want to volunteer or visit a banding session? Contact the Field Trips Chairperson. It is an awesome experience!

Special Thanks – to all the MAPS volunteers and their families and friends for their support, to Chesterfield Parks and Rec, Richmond Audubon Society and Smurfit Stone in Hopewell for contributing to our efforts.