Field scientists at the longest-running, year-round, professional bird banding program in the United States announce they’ve banded their 800,000th bird
Field researchers at Powdermill Avian Research Center (PARC), also known as Powdermill Nature Reserve, had been anticipating this particular bird’s arrival for weeks, although no one knew what it looked like nor, indeed, which individual bird it might be. But they knew when it would arrive.
“At the end of the banding day yesterday, we had 45 birds left to reach our milestone, and knew that it would be captured [Friday] morning”, said bird banding program manager Annie Lindsay in a statement.
And sure enough, just as they had predicted, this special bird arrived — by air mail, if you will — on Friday morning, 5 August.
“We had been anticipating this bird all year, and it’s fitting that number 800,000 would happen during the 60th anniversary of the Powdermill bird banding program.”
This special bird turned out to be a cedar waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum, a medium-sized songbird with distinctive plumage. This black-masked individual was a young-of-the-year, although it had already begun its autumn moult into its honey-colored adult plumage.
If you look closely at this particular bird, you will notice the tips of its tail feathers are orange instead of the typical lemon yellow. This orange color comes from the diet its parents fed it whilst this bird was still in its nest — a diet crammed with honeysuckle berries. Honeysuckle berries get their color from a red carotenoid pigment, rhodoxanthin, which cedar waxwings and other songbirds can deposit into their growing feathers to create orange or red plumage (more here), a phenomenon reported on in 1992 by scientists at PARC (ref).
Cedar waxwings are fruit-eating songbirds that tend to wander widely in search of food, particularly in winter.
“Cedar Waxwings are common at Powdermill and we band hundreds of them each year”, Ms Lindsay said. “[This species] was a favorite of our founder, Bob Leberman, and serves as a wonderful reminder of him and the work he did to lay the strong foundation for the research we do at Powdermill Avian Research Center today.”
In fact, PARC operates the nation’s longest-running, year-round, professional bird banding program. Their field scientists band approximately 10,000 birds each year and they collect data on another 5,000 recaptured birds. Additionally, you may recall that the field scientists at PARC captured and banded a remarkable bird in September 2020: a half male-half female gynandromorph rose-breasted grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus (more here).
In addition to banding this ‘milestone bird’, PARC is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary and is looking forward to groundbreaking for a state-of-the-art avian research facility later this fall.
Located about 3 miles south of Rector, Pennsylvania, Powdermill was a gift to Carnegie Museum of Natural History in 1956 from General and Mrs. Richard K. Mellon and Dr. and Mrs. Alan M. Scaife. Over the years, acreage has been added so this reserve now encompasses more than 2,200 acres of woodland, streams, fields and ponds that support educational programs and research on natural populations.