Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program
The Bow Valley Naturalists have been involved in the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program, at the Ranger Creek station in Banff National Park, since 1999. 2016 will be the 18th continuous year of operation at Ranger Creek, which is the longest in any national park in Canada, 3rd longest in Alberta, and 5th longest in Canada. According to Cyndi Smith, originator of the project, and still involved 18 years later, “that’s a record that Parks Canada, Bow Valley Naturalists, and the volunteers can be proud of.”
This program has only been possible through funding that Parks Canada has provided over the years and the many volunteers and professional bander who have come out in the early morning hours to run the project. Bow Valley Naturalists appreciate all the contributions made to MAPS to make this an enduring project.
The program was established in 1989 by The Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), based at Point Reyes Bird Observatory in California. Its goal is to provide long-term demographic data on landbirds as an aid in identifying the causal factors driving population trends documented by other avian monitoring programs such as the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Counts (DeSante and Nott 2001). It is a cooperative effort among public agencies, private organizations, and individual bird banders in North America to operate a continent-wide network of constant-effort mist-netting stations during the breeding season.
The entire report for the Ranger Creek MAPS station is available here:
You can access the earlier report which includes data from all of the mountain parks here: Mountain Parks MAPS Report 1993-2006
What happens to the birds?
The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program targets resident breeding birds, so the goal is to operate for one day during each 10-day period between June 10 and August 8 yearly. Ten mist nets are operated in fixed locations for 6 hours each day, opening at sunrise. Each net is checked every 15-30 minutes, and captured birds are removed – this is called a “net run.” The Bander-in-Charge is trained and licensed to band birds, and is assisted by 3-5 volunteers during each outing.
Each bird is placed in a cotton bag, which is securely tied to prevent escape. A clothespin is attached to the bag to indicate which net the bird came from. Birds are then taken back to a central banding site and processed in order of net run.
The first step in processing a bird is to identify what species it is – if the bird cannot be identified then it has to be released. In the spring identification is usually fairly easy, but later in the summer, juveniles and moulting adults make this much more challenging! Once the bird is identified, the next step is to place an aluminum identification band on its leg. Bands are of different sizes for different species, but each has a unique number in North America.
The bird is then sexed: females have a brood patch (area of bare skin on the belly for incubating eggs), while males have a cloacal protuberance.
The amount of fat that the bird has is assessed by exposing the skin at the base of the neck (the furnicular hollow), parting the feathers by blowing on them. The yellow fat is visible beneath the skin. Body and wing feather moult condition is recorded, as well as flight feather wear.
The most challenging part of the process is assigning an age to the bird. This can be done since each bird undergoes feather moult on a regular pattern, with juvenile feathers looking different than adult feathers, enabling banders to determine age. A bird that was hatched in the summer is called a “hatch year” (HY) until December 31st, and on January 1st it becomes a “second year” (SY) bird. The next January 1st, it becomes a “third year” (TY) bird, and so on. If you know that the bird is not a HY, but you aren’t sure how old it is, then it is aged as “after hatch year” (AHY). If you know that it is also not SY, then it is aged as “after second year” (ASY). Some woodpeckers can be aged into their fourth year.
Colour of non-feathered body parts (e.g., eyes) and measurements such as wing length and culmen (beak from nostrils to tip), are also diagnostic for some species. Banders use manuals and books written specifically for this purpose, and are constantly refining their skills.
The final step is to weigh the bird and release it.