Song Sparrow Spotting

Are you an avid birder?  Have you ever tried
identifying colour-banded birds?  Here's something
you can do to add to your enjoyment of a stroll
around two of Victoria's most readily-accessible
Conservation Areas, Rithet's Bog and Swan Lake,
that will help contribute to a globally-unique
scientific research project?  Please read on.

Colour-banded adult Song Sparrow

Every year we colour-band roughly 200 adult and nestling Song Sparrows in the
Rithet's Bog and Swan Lake Conservation Areas (Victoria, B.C.) as part of a long-term,
large-scale study on the physiological, behavioural and demographic effects of food and
predators on songbirds.

Colour-banded Song Sparrow nestlings

Each bird is given 1 metal Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) band stamped with a unique
number, plus 3 (if banded as a nestling) or 4 (if banded as an adult) plastic colour bands.
Which leg each band is on, the band's colour, and whether a band is above (nearer the
body) or below (nearer the foot) another can be varied in thousands of different ways,
allowing us to give each bird a unique 'band combination' that can be used to identify
it by sight alone.  Band combinations are 'read' by listing the bands on the bird's left leg
from top (nearer the body) to bottom (nearer the foot) and then listing the bands on the
bird's right leg from top to bottom.  Always remember that if you are facing a bird its
left leg is on your right and vice versa.

This bird's band combination is read as: 'metal over light blue, orange over dark blue' (mlb.odb)

The bird in the picture above was banded in Rithet's Bog in the fall of 1999.  If we were
to go out tomorrow and, using just our binoculars, see a bird with the band combination
'metal over light blue, orange over dark blue', we would immediately know that the bird
shown in the picture was still alive.  This would tell us that Song Sparrows in Rithet's Bog
can survive up to, e.g. 3 1/2 years (assuming it was March 2003 when we saw it again).
In addition, if we saw this bird at Swan Lake, rather than Rithet's Bog, where it was
banded, it would tell us that Song Sparrows in Victoria may migrate between different
breeding sites.  By accumulating 'sightings' of many different birds in many different areas
we can determine average life expectancy, how far young move from their parents, the
likelihood of inbreeding, and a host of other measures that it is essential to know in order
for us to understand how wild animal populations operate.

Map of Rithet's Bog showing the 5 Sections (e.g. Vole Meadow) where birds have been banded

You can help by downloading and printing the map shown above, along with data sheets
and lists of the banded birds in each Section that you can take with you on your next outing.
Identify the Section you'll be walking through (as shown on the map above) and dowload
the appropriate list: Chatterton, Emily Carr, Fir Tree Glen, Vole Meadow, Dalewood.
If you are really keen you can also download a detailed map of the relevant Section:
Chatterton, Emily Carr, Fir Tree Glen, Vole Meadow, Dalewood.  You can also
downloand a list of the birds banded at Swan Lake together with a Swan Lake map.
(All of the above are Adobe PDF files accessible using any browser).

When you see a banded Song Sparrow, find its band combination on the list, mark where
you saw it on the map, list the time and your details on the data sheet and send your
findings to us.  We will then send you a brief biography of each bird.

If you would like more information please e-mail or phone.  To submit your findings
please post them to whichever address shown below is appropriate given the
time of year.
Dr. Michael Clinchy or Dr. Liana Zanette or
In Victoria (mid-March to August)
5268 Santa Clara Avenue
Victoria, B.C., V8Y 1W4

Ph: (250) 658-3325

In London (Sept. to March)
Department of Biology
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, N6A 5B7
Ph: (519) 850-2549 or -2533

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES:  Please click here if you would like to
participate in other aspects of this project.

Song Sparrow crew hard at work on Portland Island