August 5, 2010 for the Missoulian

Even a swarm of mosquitoes couldn’t dampen the excitement of young children eager for a chance to hold a black-capped chickadee one morning earlier this week at Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site.

The crowd from Montana Tech’s Kids’ College listened politely and fidgeted just a little while Sharon Fuller from the University of Montana’s Avian Science Center delicately pulled a chickadee from a small blue sack.

“Why is the bird in a bag?” Peyton Cox asked.

Each bird is placed in a cloth bag so it isn’t scared by the sights and sounds between the mist net where it was caught and the station where it will be banded with a unique identification number, explained Kristina Smucker, who created the center’s Bird’s-Eye View Education Program.

Fuller then measured wing length and gently blew on the bird’s belly, lifting its feathers so she could identify gender. She explained the purpose of a female’s brood patch between the small puffs of air.

“She puts that on top of the eggs to keep them warm,” said Fuller, extending her hand so the children could see the bald spot on the bird’s belly.

“Birds actually use their bare skin to warm the eggs, not feathers,” Smucker said. “You can quiz your parents tonight and ask, ‘How do birds keep their eggs warm?’ ”

Chatter grew as the kids hatched plans to do just that.

Meanwhile, Fuller carefully bent a small silver band around the bird’s leg with special pliers. “No other bird in the whole wide world” has the same number, she said, so scientists can track its global travels.

The educational program’s purpose, however, extends beyond the value of migration and nesting data. This is a hands-on opportunity for the public – and particularly kids – to see scientists in action researching the effects of past mining on riparian wildlife, including riverside songbirds.

Read the full story here.

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