I posted last week about my research experience in Alaska. Before I discuss the research project, I want to describe the techniques I used to capture the birds.
The larger birds – Common & Thick-billed Murre and Red & Black-legged Kittiwakes -were captured with a simple noose attached to a long pole. These seabirds nest on cliffs away from the ground. Why do you think they do that?
In order to capture the birds I used a long noose pole. I would dangle the noose over the bird’s head and then pull! This didn’t hurt the bird, but I’m sure it was quite a shock! Why was I able to do this without breaking the bird’s neck?
Common & Thick-billed Murres also nest on cliffs, but they tend to nest up higher than kittiwakes so we had to noose them from above.
The noose method only works on large birds. How did I catch the medium-sized Crested and Parakeet Auklet? I used something called a mist net. Mist nets are nylon mesh strung between two poles. When set up they are very hard to see! Can you see the mist net in this picture?
Because it’s nearly invisible, my partner and I would set up the mist net right in front of an area where Parakeet & Crested Auklets were nesting (like the Murres, they also nest on cliffs). When the adults would leave the nest to fly out to sea, they would swoop down into our waiting net.
I thought the mist net was the most difficult of all the techniques as the birds would sometimes get quite tangled and it was hard to get them out. It was really stressful because we had to get the birds out within two minutes to take a blood sample right away (more on that later).
The smallest bird, the Least Auklet, doesn’t nest on cliffs. It nests in rock crevices! The Least Auklet is only the size of a sparrow, making it one of the smallest seabirds. Why does it nest in rocks?
It was really fun capturing these birds. We made noose mats – basically, mesh that had tiny little loops tied into the mesh. When the birds would step on the mat and walk around, their feet would get stuck in the loop, and when they tried to fly away – caught!! It was fun because sometimes you’d catch two or three birds at a time.
So those are the techniques I used to capture the seabirds. Did you think it looked like fun? Would you like an experience like this one? A couple of years ago I took some students on a research expedition to study seabirds in Alaska through the organization Earthwatch. They have some great research trips for teenagers. Most of them are quite expensive, but they do have a fellowship program (unfortunately, the deadline was December – next year!). Let me know if you’re interested in an Earthwatch trip and I can give you tips on which ones are really good (I still know people who work there).
I will end with a great video of the island I was on – St Paul Island, Alaska. Brings back such great memories! Truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life!