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Notes from the Field

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla) photographed by Twan Leenders

Do you ever wonder where those warblers, orioles, and hummingbirds go during our cold winter months? And how they are doing when you’re not watching them? As much as we love to watch these feathered travelers when they are in North America, surprisingly little is known about their habits when they are not here. Twice each year these migratory birds embark on a long, treacherous journey between the areas where they breed (in our neck of the woods) and their wintering grounds, often in Central or South America. It is of critical importance that we learn where to protect the right types of habitat so these birds can travel safely and find the resources and food that they need to arrive back here in good enough shape to start nesting right away.

In early March, RTPI staff traveled to Costa Rica with high school students and teachers from The Forman School in Litchfield, CT, to offer a hands-on training course in migratory bird banding, monitoring endangered amphibians and reptiles, camera-trapping local mammals, and recording bird calls for the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell University. During this course, we were able to map the preferred wintering habitats of several different migratory bird species. We are happy to confirm that many Chestnut-sided Warblers, Wilson’s Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Wood Thrushes, a rare Golden-winged Warbler, and other migratory birds are doing well and are now on their way north. Several of these birds were outfitted with a shiny, numbered band on their legs that uniquely identifies each individual bird. Each capture provides a little bit of information, which is shared with many colleagues so that in the aggregate these individual data points can help us answer big questions and help us better guide future conservation efforts.

Student researchers assist RTPI conservation staff with bird banding operations in Costa Rica, February 2020.

One of the highlights from this recent trip was that Twan Leenders, RTPI Senior Director of Science & Conservation connected his budding high school researchers in the rainforest of Costa Rica with approximately 100 fifth grade students and their teachers in the Jamestown Public School system through a live-streamed class. Middle schoolers, who were studying tropical rainforest ecology at that time, could experience the work of our student researchers and interact with Twan in real-time. By spreading the excitement of natural history study, we hope to spark the next generation of Roger Tory Petersons by offering life-changing, hands-on experiences for young naturalists.