Cape Florida Banding Station; Bird Banding Volunteer
Jennifer Quintero is a Senior at Florida International University currently majoring in Sustainability and the Environment and Public Administration with the goal of working in the public sector as an environmental educator and policy maker. She works part-time for the Deering Estate as an environmental educator. During the semester she also interns as a naturalist on campus giving tours and leading volunteers on the university’s nature preserve all in the hopes of bridging the gap between people and nature. When not working she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and learning all there is to know about the outdoors.
I volunteer at the Cape Florida Banding Station (CFBS), located on Key Biscayne within Bill Baggs State Park. The CFBS conducts research through the capture and banding of migratory birds. It is essential for learning about bird species, sex, age and overall health as they traverse the Atlantic Fly-Way during their migration. You can find out more about their awesome work through their website: https://capefloridabandingstation.wordpress.com
I decided to volunteer at the CFBS in order to learn more about conservation and field research. I’ve recently become an avid birder and want to learn as much as I can, not only for my career, but for my own enjoyment. Volunteering at the banding station allows me to get hands on experience with wildlife and conservation that would otherwise be difficult to get.
I learned about this opportunity through my mentor, Steffanie Munguia, of the Conservation Leadership Initiative hosted by Florida Audubon (here’s a link to that for those who may be interested: https://fl.audubon.org/CLI). It’s honestly been such a great experience to be taught one-on-one by master birder banders who are really enthusiastic and answer all my raging questions kindly. Often in conservation, I feel very intimidated when asking anything so it was such a relief to be in such a positive environment. It reignited my love for the outdoors and opened up new ideas on what I want to do in the future.
On my first day of bird banding, I arrived a lot earlier than I said I would. Typically volunteers are there before the sun rises, but I am not the biggest fan of waking up early, so I resolved to come in at 8-9 AM or so. Still, I was so excited that I barely slept and made it to the station by 7:00 AM. Seeing that sun rise over Biscayne Bay may have changed me into an early bird forever. I was met by Michelle, the founder of the station, Miriam, a local birder and engineer, and Donna, a UM law professor. They were a very welcoming bunch, I’m a bit reluctant to say I was relieved there were no men. Not a few minutes into the day and I was asked if I wanted to hold a bird. This was my first time holding a bird, so they taught me how to do so using the bander’s grip and the photographer’s grip. I knew birds were lightweight, but wow. It was so small and fluffy and I fell in love instantly. I felt so proud when they told me I’m a natural. They showed me the three trails where the nets were set up, twenty-two in total. I resolved that I would memorize the trails and the nets locations by the end of the day (I did!!). As we did the round on the trails every twenty minutes, we found birds in the mist nets: ovenbirds, cat birds, black-throated blue warblers, cape may warblers, etc. It was amazing seeing how they went about extracting the birds from the nets, I paid such close attention that I doubt I blinked the entire time. In between rounds, they showed me the banding process and how they gathered data from the birds. My favorite part was when they put them into a little tube to get their weight (ahhh so cute!). By the end of the day, we had broken the record for bird banding in this year’s Spring so far (what a lucky first day!). No doubt that the number will increase now with the incoming spring migration. Can’t say that I’m not thrumming with excitement at the thought of it!
My excitement did not wear off, like I had anticipated. I made it to the station early, a bit apprehensive of the gloomy weather, but it ended up being great for alleviating us of the unrelenting heat of the hardwood hammock. There were two new people at the station I hadn’t met, two local birding boys. I took turns making rounds with everyone to try to learn the differences in how they extracted birds from the nets. Its always good to learn from different people. It was busier in the earlier hour in terms of birds and it dwindled down towards the early afternoon. Still, I got the chance to perform my first extraction on my own; I don’t think I stopped smiling for six hours after that. It was an American Redstart, super beautiful feisty bird. I don’t think I’ll ever get over this feeling.
In my experience thus far, I think what worked best was really taking the risk and trying to do something new instead of letting my fear and nervousness of messing up get in my way. It also helped that the atmosphere they created at the CFBS was really conducive to asking lots of questions and learning as much as possible. In terms of what didn’t work, I should’ve packed more water. I am looking forward to continuing to volunteer at the CFBS and am so grateful to have gotten the chance