Banding with Carly: first hand report from a gull team member

This is Carly Emes, reporting back with the promised “gory details” of how we band the gulls! I’d like to describe the step-by-step process of catch and release; and also touch on the importance of various samples we collect from each individual gull.

Participating in field research is not glamorous. As many of you are aware, Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls will stop at nothing to defend their little patch of territory – especially when mates have invested so much energy into a clutch of eggs. This strong parental behavior is an important factor that we use to our advantage as we proceed with caution into the thick of the colony.

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The colony of aware and vigilant parents.

This May, our team focused on banding Herring Gulls. Nowadays, scientific research typically uses the most specialized gadgets adapted to collect necessary data at the highest efficiency. However, our methods do not fall into that category. In fact, most of our techniques are quite comical and simplified (but nevertheless they are great at getting the job done).

Fully clad in our fashionable hat-underneath-helmet look paired with gull poop stained jackets, the team seeks for reasonably level terrain to set up several buckets of our more clinical tools for banding. Meanwhile, two or more members will branch off and look for unbanded Herring Gulls with a notably strong instinct to incubate their eggs. If the gull is dedicated to staying seated, then we can simply and safely pluck them off of the nest and into a gull-sized cloth bag. If not, then we have a choice of using two different traps.

Sean Jeffery and I attempting the tactile approach (as the wary mate above watches our every move).

Sean Jeffery and I attempting the tactile approach (as the wary mate above watches our every move).

Our trap of choice (based on the convenience of nest location this year) was the “Wiley trap.” Aptly nicknamed after Wiley Coyote, this trap is comprised of a box propped up by a stick attached to a string.

The classic cartoon trap positioned for our next prospect.

The classic cartoon trap positioned for our next prospect.

Once the gull is in custody, we bring them to basecamp to process them in a timely and quiet manner.

The first step is to obtain a blood sample. This is an important element of genetic analysis which can be useful for tracing breeding relationships among the returning population.

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After bleeding, we place a federal band (USGS) on the right leg, and a field band on the left leg. This is a key component of Julie Ellis’ research which allows her to track where the gulls are located on a global scale, and if they are alive and well. Of course, this is made possible by the helpful citizens who report their sightings.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.57.23 AM Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.57.39 AMNext, we weigh the bird and take several different measurements including the length of the tarsus, back of the skull to the tip of the bill, and wing chord. At their adult stage, documenting body dimension is another useful piece of data that we like to keep in our bank of records. Lastly, In order to not further disorient this troubled bird, we must release him or her within the range of its own territory.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.57.45 AMDuring our week stay, we try our best to complete this course of action as many times as possible. As you may imagine, these activities have left me with phantom binoculars and an irrational paranoia of dive-bombing gulls. Even with the scientific duties we performed as a team, at the end of the day I can only describe this experience as rowdy and rewarding.

Happy gulling and thanks for your time!

5 thoughts on “Banding with Carly: first hand report from a gull team member

  1. Hi Julie:
    Just back from a week on Star Island and islanders tell me that the number of breeding gulls on the island is significantly down compared to 10 years ago, despite the fact that they are not controlling for them. Is this the situation on Appledore also, and if so do you have an inkling as to why? Very sorry to hear about the demise of the LBBG. Thanks

    • Hi Eric! Sarah Courchesne here, filling in for Julie while she’s on maternity leave. We have found declining numbers on Appledore as well, though, as far as I know, without a clear cause. Of course, Julie and co. may well have better info. As for the LBBG–his demise? Do you know something I don’t? He was alive when last I saw him in May, but if you know of further developments, please let me know!

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