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December 11, 2023

Highlights from the USGS Bird Banding Lab (BBL) 2023 fall migration station.

The Bird Banding Lab at USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center recently wrapped up the 40th banding season at the migration monitoring station on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Patuxent Research Refuge. Operating since 1979, this station monitors migrating land birds using the refuge to rest and refuel. The team, consisting of USGS staff and volunteers, operated the station for a total of 42 days, mid-August through mid-November 2023. This season 2,401 new birds were banded and 727 previously banded birds were recaptured representing 82 species. This is the highest number of newly banded birds at the station in the last 15 years!

Highlight of birds banded and recaptured at the Patuxent Research Refuge, by BBL biologist and volunteers during Fall 2023 Migration.


Species Highlights from 2023

Along with big capture numbers, the team also banded several uncommon species that they have not banded at station in several years or more, including:

  • The station’s first banded Yellow-throated Vireo since 2016
  • The first Baltimore Oriole banded since 2012
  • The second banded House Finch at the station in the last 25 years, with the other individual having been banded just last year in 2022
  • Most surprising, the first bandings of several Eastern Bluebirds since 2001 

Notably, the station also banded the 2nd largest number of Cape May Warblers in the 40 years the station has operated. The station banded a whopping 15 Cape May Warblers in 2023 – while only 24 individuals were banded in the previous 15 years! Based on information from other banding stations and birdwatchers, this species saw a significant irruption into the mid-Atlantic region.

The station also saw a significant increase in recaptures of birds banded at the station in previous years. The oldest recaptures were two Red-eyed Vireos, one of which was banded 10 years ago and the other 7 years ago! These individuals help us better understand how individuals use the station’s habitat long term.


A Year of Changes

This season brought several changes to the banding station. The station explores how birds utilize the maintained area under transmission powerlines during their migration. In 2023, the dense shrubby habitat under the powerlines was beginning to become too congested so the vegetation was thinned out to access critical areas of the powerline right-of-way. The thinning resulted in an expansion of the net lanes from 3 feet to 8 feet wide, along with several additional cross-sections cut throughout the right-of- way. It is possible this and other similar cuts nearby may have contributed to the high capture totals. 

 In August 2023, EESC with a generous donation from the Friends of Patuxent organization, the BBL’s migration monitoring station received a much needed upgrade to its bird processing center, including a new pavilion with picnic tables and shed. Although  the net locations have not changed since 1979, the bird processing area had previously seen gradual improvements. Initially birds were processed on just a small metal table (now completely rusted out!). From the early 2000s to 2022, the team operated out of a small table, with limited storage built underneath and a modest roof. The 2023 upgrades allow birds to be processed more efficiently and visitors to observe but not interrupt the banding process.

The new bird processing center will facilitate increased educational opportunities that will further highlight value of migration bird banding at USFWS Patuxent Research Refuge. And this new space was just in time for the lab’s biggest banding year in 15 years!


Fall 2023 Totals (total number of new birds banded in parenthesis)

  • White-throated Sparrow (346)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet (268)
  • Gray Catbird (201)
  • Hermit Thrush (143)
  • Red-eyed Vireo (126)
  • Eastern Towhee (115)
  • Dark-eyed Junco (98)
  • Tennessee Warbler (89)
  • Swainson’s Thrush (72)
  • Magnolia Warbler (66)
  • Song Sparrow (61)
  • Common Yellowthroat (55)
  • Ovenbird (47)
  • Swamp Sparrow (42)
  • American Redstart (40)
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (34)
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet (30)
  • Northern Parula (27)
  • Veery (26)
  • Black-and-White Warbler (25)
  • Gray-checked Thrush (24)
  • Carolina Wren (24)
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler (24)
  • Blue Jay (23)
  • Fox Sparrow (19)
  • Tufted Titmouse (18)
  • Eastern Wood-pewee (17)
  • Northern Cardinal (17)
  • Trail’s Flycatcher (16)
  • Wood Thrush (16)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (15)
  • Cape May Warbler (15)
  • Acadian Flycatcher (14)
  • Carolina Chickadee (14)
  • Canada Warbler (14)
  • Brown Thrasher (14)
  • Winter Wren (12)
  • American Robin (11)
  • Black-throated Green Warbler (11)
  • House Wren (10)
  • Northern Waterthrush (10)
  • Eastern Phoebe (9)
  • Connecticut Warbler (8)
  • Blue-headed Vireo (8)
  • Indigo Bunting (7)
  • White-eyed Vireo (7)
  • Least Flycatcher (7)
  • Yellow-bellied Cuckoo (7)
  • Palm Warbler (7)
  • Bay-breasted Warbler (6)
  • Northern Mockingbird (6)
  • Downy Woodpecker (5)
  • Nashville Warbler (5)
  • Blackpoll Warbler (4)
  • Chipping Sparrow (4)
  • Winter Wren (4)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (4)
  • Field Sparrow (4)
  • Brown Creeper (3)
  • American Goldfinch (3)
  • Scarlet Tanager (3)
  • Northern Flicker (3)
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (2)
  • Worm-eating Warbler (2)
  • Purple Finch (2)
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2)
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)
  • Prothonotary Warbler (1)
  • Hooded Warbler (1)
  • Philadelphia Vireo (1)
  • House Finch (1)
  • Blue-winged Warbler (1)
  • Yellow Warbler (1)
  • Yellow-breasted Chat (1)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)
  • Warbling Vireo (1)

*All birds handled and banded under USGS BBL permit. 

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