Vital People: Rocky Point Bird Observatory volunteers make a difference

Vital People: Rocky Point Bird Observatory volunteers make a difference

At the Rocky Point Bird Observatory’s banding station in Pedder Bay, volunteers identify lots of different birds.

“This is a golden crown sparrow,” one volunteer explains. “You can see it likes to eat berries because it has a purple face!”

Monitoring birds is essential to protect them and these dedicated volunteers are contributing critical data on the health of our birds.

“The West Coast has been doing better than some of the interior and eastern sites,” says long-time Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) volunteer Ann Nightingale. “We haven’t seen as many downward trends as some of the other places.”

Tagging the birds is a big part of that and checking in on how they’re doing.

Volunteers band about 3,000 birds a year — mainly between July and October —and they’ve banded more than 48,000 since RPBO was started in 1994.

“The most unusual bird we’ve caught last year between our two sites is a bird called an Orchard oriole,” Nightingale says.

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Using a Pygmy owl stuffie, Nightingale demonstrates how they do it.

“The birds are flying along and the mist nets are almost transparent, they’re like a giant hair net and fall in,” she says.

Volunteers check the nets every 20 minutes and then take the bird to the banding station.

They also do a daily observation, an hour after sunrise for consistency, to gather data.

“We’re doing daily observations of all the birds we see and hear and also a standardized census where one of our volunteers will walk the same route, every day, taking about 75 minutes and identifying all the birds they see,” Nightingale explains.

The Rocky Point Bird Observatory is the oldest organization doing long-term avian monitoring in the South Coast region, and it’s making a big difference.

“It’s those long-term data that allow us to look at some trends and certainly we do see that some numbers have really dropped off, some of the sparrows we see have dropped, some birds have increased,” Nightingale says. “We never used to catch white-throated sparrows and now we do every year.”

It’s just one of the more than 300 species of songbirds, vultures, raptors, and seabirds they’ve recorded here.

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