John James Audubon Center in Lower Providence holds bird banding demonstration

Delaware Valley College Professor Gregory George documents the size and weight of a male house finch during the John James Audubon Center Bird Banding event Sunday. Photo by Brendan Wills/Digital First Media

LOWER PROVIDENCE — If you have ever been walking alone near a forested area and felt like eyes were watching you, it could have been a well-camouflaged Eastern screech owl cloaked in the colors of the forest.

During an average lifetime, a human will miss spotting approximately 12 screech owls hidden in the natural landscape.

Visitors to the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove Sunday who attended the free Bird Banding event learned a variety of birding tidbits from Gregory George III, a professor of biology at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown.

Advertisement

George, an expert on birds with his master bird banding permit, also spends his time volunteering for the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton and for the American Kestrel Partnership.

On Sunday, he enlisted the help of his daughters Alana, 10-years-old, and Zoe, 5-years-old, to help him demonstrate how to band birds.

Using a specially-designed net, George and his young assistants caught four house finches and brought them over to the gathered crowd. After Alana and her dad let the two young finches fly free, George demonstrated how to attach the small computer beacon to adult male and female finches.

George fielded questions from visitors and spoke about the importance of gathering information on bird populations in order to help conservation efforts.

Future bird enthusiasts beware, once the birds are tagged, George’s work has just begun.

“For every hour in the field, you create three hours of paperwork in the office,” George said about the tedious amount of documentation that goes into a successful operation.

On Sunday, George took down the basic information required by the government, showed the crowd how to measure the birds’ size and weight, and took down information regarding the band he put on the birds.

Despite the hours spent cataloging all of the information gathered in the field, bird banding still has its exhilarating moments, according to George. Sometimes bird banding can be dangerous, as George noted in a recollection of receiving the “business end” of a bird of prey.

“The business end of the raptor is the talons,” George said. “But, if you’re focused and paying attention, you and the bird will not get hurt.”

In his extensive career with birds, George only experienced one incident where a bird was hurt during a banding exercise. For the most part, George said, humans get hurt only when they are careless around a bird.

Recently George helped to replace the center’s kestrel boxes. Through his work with the American Kestral Partnership, George works to help conserve the falcons, whose numbers have been on the decline in recent years.

When he went to replace one of the boxes, he discovered that a family of screech owls had moved into one of the boxes. Though the boxes are put up to match the kestrels’ open-field habitat, the birders were not disappointed to know screech-owls were in the area.

“It was fantastic to see those screech-owls here,” George said, noting that the box was close enough to a forested area to attract the owls.

Following George’s banding demonstration, Lisa Guerrierro, a volunteer at the John James Audubon Center, introduced the crowd to Sam, a blind Eastern screech owl who has an enclosure on the grounds.

Stephanie Britten, who works for the National Audubon Society, continued the tour of the grounds by leading the group to the “Lost Bird” statues that are on display at the center. Sculpted by Todd McGrain, the five statues represent extinct birds, including the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, the Great Auk, the Labrador Duck and the Heath Hen.

The John James Audubon Center hosts various events throughout the year, including Perkiomen Creek canoeing trips and other bird-oriented events. Another bird banding event will be held at the center on Oct. 27 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and will feature saw-whet owls.

To find out more about upcoming events visit the center’s website at johnjames.audubon.org.

George encourages young and old bird and wildlife enthusiasts to visit the facebook page, Delaware Valley Avaian Ecology and Biodiversity Lab, to learn more about Delaware Valley’s involvement in conversation efforts.