Natural Wonders

Learning from nature: A birding biologist’s perspective | Brazos Life

A birding biologist's perspective on learning from nature

Keith Andringa, center, demonstrates bird banding and measurement techniques on a northern mockingbird.

“Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight; a home, a teacher, a companion.” — Lorraine Anderson

There is something to be said about the human connection with nature.

From birth, I think we consider ourselves to be superior to the “natural” world, and it is hard to imagine ourselves as part of an ecosystem. Yet, we have an intrinsic curiosity about the world around us — a curiosity about the ebbs and flows of natural cycles, the amazing feats accomplished by the animals around us, and how we all fit in to the natural world.

That’s where I see the beauty in science. As an ornithologist, I explore nature to find the answers to these intrinsic curiosities while investigating the purpose behind bird behavior.

One of the more fascinating natural wonders, in my opinion, is bird migration. The fact that a ruby-throated hummingbird can travel 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico without landing boggles my mind.

The hummingbird I diligently feed in my yard has likely traveled from the far reaches of Central America to visit me for the summer. However, we wouldn’t know how far any bird traveled, nor how old wild birds can grow to be, if it wasn’t for the practice of bird banding.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, humans have been placing bands (small metal rings with unique identifiers) on birds to differentiate between individual birds. These bands are like small bracelets that a bird wears and can be used in what we ecologists call a “mark-resight study.” Essentially, the goal of banding birds is to “mark” a bird with a band with a specific code, then hope the bird is “resighted,” later. These resighted birds help us to determine how old birds can grow to be, how far they can travel, and what migratory paths they take throughout their life.

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