A white crowned sparrow zoomed through the shrubbery at the Connected Lakes section at James M. Robb Colorado River State Park on Saturday, probably off to rest or grab some breakfast.
All of a sudden, that’s when it hit — a soft net that trapped the young sparrow. It was those dang humans and bird bander Alicia Bachman. This was the second time in days they had caught the little sparrow.
“Look at that; he’s already banded. Looks like we caught him Tuesday,” Bachman said, flipping through her catalog of birds. “That tells us that it’s hanging out here.”
Bachman is with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and was at Connected Lakes studying the local birds, with help from the Grand Valley Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to preserving birds and bird education.
By working together, they can better understand bird habits, educate the public and restore natural habitats.
Bachman has 11 other nets like the one that caught the sparrow spaced around the park. Birds will fly and fall into the nets unharmed.
Every 30 minutes, Bachman made her rounds and checked each net for birds.
When she found one, she took it back to her station to study everything from the bird’s weight, feather length and development.
On its own, one bit of research information from one banded sparrow doesn’t give you a lot of details. But it means a lot when compounded with the research numbers of countless banded birds in western Colorado and the United States.
“When we look at this data over a period of time, we can start to notice certain trends. Like, if we’re seeing an increase of birds in one area, we know that habitat may be in good shape because there’s lots of food there, and space to rest,” Bachman said.
For example, if you notice native birds have shorter wings over time, that means they aren’t traveling as far to get food.
The Grand Valley is at the western-most edge of birds’ central migration pattern in North America, meaning various species make this area part of their regular migrations.
“This area is too dry for birds to mate, but they’ll stop by on their way to mate, and they’ll come here looking for relief from cooler temperatures,” said Cary Atwood, president of the Grand Valley Audubon Society,
Atwood hopes when the Bird Conservancy is out here in the future, more birds will begin to be seen.
The Grand Valley Audubon Society is in the midst of a project to restore part of the Connected Lakes area to its old wetland status through the Audubon Nature Preserve at 610 Dike Road.
By filling empty ponds with water and adding water control systems, they’ll be able to re-create wetlands. The standing water attracts bugs, a prime food source for birds that hunt mid-flight for prey.
In June 2020, the first phase of the project was completed when it filled in portions of two ponds on the property.
The society also installed a headgate and culvert that allows water from the Redlands Tailrace Canal to enter one of the ponds, and a structure to separate two ponds that allows for water manipulation.
The next phase entails partially filling a third pond and enhancing infrastructure.
Wetlands are vital to birds’ way of life and that of many other species, but have been rapidly disappearing in the past century or so.
“This is important for the birds and our ecosystem, but also for us to better understand them,” Atwood said.
“The birds need safe places to rest and get food while migrating, and there’s so many threats to them like humans, cats and weather.”
The bird nets will be up through Oct. 15.