Avian Monitoring Project

Bird banding at an SVBC mist netting session at Finca Cantaros.

SVBC banders at mist netting session, Finca Cantaros. Photo: Nancy Nelson.

The Avian Monitoring Project–a 10-year mist-netting project begun in 2004 by Principal Investigator Dr. Steven Latta and his associate Judy Richardson, a Master Bander from Connecticut–was conducted by SVBC volunteers who had received extensive training in North America as well as Costa Rica. The original 10-year term for the project having been achieved, it continues under the auspices of the Costa Rica Bird Observatories and the leadership of Juan Pablo (“Chespi”) Elizondo, its executive director as well as National Coordinator of Partners in Flight Costa Rica and a long-time key participant in the project. He has brought many biology students to work on this project as well as helped train local volunteers in current data collection techniques. He is an expert interpreter of bird molt sequence, a physiological process that can be used to accurately age birds in the hand.

The project uses mist nets to capture birds that are then banded with individual numbers allowing field assistants to identify them when and if they are recaptured. Four times a year (January, March, August and November), week-long mist netting sessions are run at three privately-owned properties in various stages of reforestation. Permits for this study are obtained twice a year from the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment (MINAET).

Bird bands. Photo: Alison Olivieri.

Field Assistants take extensive data from each bird, including identification of species, sex, age, wing length, skull ossification and the amount of fat carried in the “wishbone” area of the chest. All of our data are collected under the most rigorous standards and are available to other researchers through the Landbird Monitoring Network of the Americas  and, therefore, is part of a continental scale dataset. The data is also sent to the Costa Rican Banders’ Network (Red de Anilladores de Aves de Costa Rica), part of Partners in Flight, so that all parties will be informed if a banded bird is found here in Costa Rica, on its migratory route to North America, or somewhere in North America.

After each work session, information summaries and species lists are sent to all participants and property owners. The summary charts, species lists and highlights of each session are available on request.

This ongoing monitoring project will contribute to the understanding of both resident and migrant bird populations. (Residents are birds that live in Costa Rica year-around; migrants are those that spend the breeding season and several months thereafter—approximately May-October—in North America.) Incorporating standardized monitoring methods, the project is expected to provide insights useful for local bird conservation and management. Additionally, the results of local projects such as this can then inform wider regional and international monitoring efforts to help determine population trends and habitat relationships of birds at a scale far greater than any single effort. These methods allow investigators to address basic research questions of the ecology and natural history of migratory and resident bird species.

Although formal research findings based on the project have not yet been published, Juan Pablo Elizondo wrote an article for our newsletter published in the February 2010 issue of the Club’s Newsletter (Vol 4, No 2), explaining the study’s progress and results. This article is reproduced below. When more findings are published, we will note them here.

Historical note. The original Avian Monitoring Project was designed by Dr. Latta. He has designed many such programs based on locally-defined objectives in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador as well as Costa Rica.

Steve Latta

Steve Latta

Dr. Latta became involved with the SVBC through his association with Fred Sibley and Judy Richardson, board members of and volunteers for the Connecticut Audubon Society (see Partners & Affiliates).

Judy Richardson

Judy Richardson. Photo: Dave Woolley.

Judy participated in this study annually for its first 10 years and brought volunteer bird banders from her project at the Connecticut Audubon Birdcraft Museum, a facility in Fairfield, CT where she continues to serve on the Board of Directors. This facility has the oldest, continually-run, permanent banding station in Connecticut and conducts environmental education programs for students of all ages. More about Birdcraft, the original museum in the US devoted to the study of birds and the oldest facility belonging to Connecticut Audubon, can be found here.

Dr. Latta’s two co-investigators of record were Alison Olivieri and Julie Girard, both of whom maintain residences in San Vito and are long-standing, active members of the Club.

Immediately below is an article by Juan Pablo (“Chespi”) Elizondo summarizing and commenting on the SVBC Avian Monitoring Project data for 2004-July 2009. The article appeared in the SVBC Newsletter of Feb 2010 (Vol 4, No. 2).

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager article.

Below is an article by Alison Olivieri and Julie Girard about the capture of a Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager during an avian monitoring session in March 2012. This bird has never been seen at this elevation.

Our avian monitoring data is available to researchers or others with a compelling need. Please email us.