Young Naturalists at Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary
An indigo bunting getting banded
Tucked into the eastern part of the state near Connersville Indiana is Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary.
The sanctuary contains a wide variety of woodland habitats that are perfect for many species of warblers, thrushes, and tanagers.
The Indiana Young Birders Club, a group for young people interested in birding and conservation sponsored by the Indiana Audubon Society, held a Young Naturalists Weekend in early June.
The first event for the weekend was bird banding. We got up bright and early on Saturday morning and wandered down the road from the campground, admiring all of the lush foliage that spans the area as chipping sparrows darted along the edges of the greenery. Black vultures circled high overhead as we walked up to the shelter where the birds were banded. Several birds had already been caught that morning, Chipping Sparrows, Wood Thrush, Catbird, and a Louisiana Waterthrush.
A ruby-throated hummingbird is carefully measured and banded
Measurements were taken, the birds were banded and then turned over on their backs while the bander would then blow on their belly. Though it may look odd, doing this tells them two things: It lets them know if the bird has a brood patch, or thinning of the feathers on the stomach that allows the eggs to be kept warmer by being closer to the skin, and it shows them the fat content of the bird.
Fat content is very important later on in Fall when the birds eat more to prepare for the journey south for the winter. All of this data is taken down by the bander and then turned in so that if the bird is caught later it can be determined where and when the bird was caught to learn more about its habits. Banding is a great source of information and very useful in monitoring the health of a species.
The nets were checked every half hour or so and while I waited for the next round, I was watching two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers working the treetops above us and happened to look down to see a small spring peeper hop across my foot. I picked it up so it wouldn’t get stepped on and also show my kids; it was only half the size of my fingertip. The kids passed it around and then I put it back near the edge of the woods where I found it. It’s very important to return animals to their original homes.
A bluebird keeping watch over 'his' pasture
After checking the nets again, we came up with a prize, an Indigo Bunting. With deep blue colors, it was a real crowd pleaser. It was great that the kids could see such a beautiful bird up close. Once measured, it was given to one of the young girls to release. She was given proper instruction on how to hold it and she delighted in setting it free.
A Louisiana Waterthrush gets banded
Other events through the weekend included a creek walk where the kids could learn about what makes a healthy stream and the creatures that live in it. There was a bat watch later in the evening that let the kids learn about the different species that could be found in the state and the challenges that bats face. We had two bird hikes that created a wonderful opportunity to teach the younger kids birding basics. We even built several bird houses as a service project. My son enjoyed standing amidst the 30+ hummingbirds that buzzed around the feeder area. He even got to hold one of the feeders as the Ruby-throated hummingbirds fed from it.
The weekend was a huge success. All the activities were rewarded with smiling faces. It’s so important to give kids the opportunity to disconnect with technology occasionally and get outside. They learn so much more by interacting with nature, seeing it up close.
The author's son Severin Arvin holds a feeder for a hungry hummingbird