Volunteer with LABO
Interested in volunteering? Please sign up on our Facebook page or email us to be added to our mailing list to learn about upcoming banding opportunities.
An Overview of Volunteering
Volunteering can be rewarding both for your own personal edification, but can also help serve the community in which you live. Volunteering for a conservation organization, like the Louisiana Bird Observatory (a program of the Baton Rouge Audubon Society, a 501c3 non-profit organization), can help all of us learn more about the natural community around us, as well as learn skills in bird identification, the scientific process, and the technical aspects of banding birds and running a bird banding station. Direct benefits that you may receive as a volunteer include resume building, networking with professionals in the scientific and conservation fields, developing references for employment, and benefiting from tax incentives.
We hope that this document will serve as an introduction to the program, and what you can expect as a volunteer. In addition to providing technical training and education opportunities, this project is producing novel science in avian demography and ecology, disease ecology, and environmental toxicology. Guided by the Bander's Code of Ethics to ensure the protection of banders and birds during the banding process, our activities can be summarized by three simple, but critically important principles:
- 1) human safety
- 2) bird safety
- 3) data quality
Legalities of Banding Birds
Intentionally catching or harassing birds for any reason is prohibited by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and as such, banders require a federal permit issued through the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory, regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Many states also require one or more additional permits to handle wildlife, and in Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries issues a scientific collecting permit to federal banding permit holders.
At each banding session, a licensed Master Bander or one of their licensed subpermittees must be present to oversee the banding process. At our stations in Louisiana, each Master Bander has at least 10 years of experience banding birds, and each of these people is skilled in training volunteers.
Learning to Band Birds
Banding birds can be a rewarding and challenging experience, as it is more complicated than simply catching birds, taking measurements, and releasing birds. Guided by our three principles (see above), everything we do is centered on keeping people and birds safe in order to collect high quality data. This means extracting birds from nets and processing birds (and recording data) in a timely fashion. Simple extractions should take < 1 minute and birds should be processed in < 5 minutes. It can take many months to master these skills, and you should be accompanied by trained banders at every step in the learning process until you are proficient at these skills.
As a new volunteer, you will be asked about your previous experience with bird banding. New volunteers range in experience from never seeing bird banding before to highly skilled and trained banders from other locations around the world. They also range from students in high school to retirees. We welcome volunteers of all skill levels, backgrounds, and experience.
In the following, let's follow a scenario as if you have never seen bird banding before, but are interested in seeing how it is done and potentially learning to help. Many of our volunteers begin this way, and after training and practice, are now processing birds and extracting birds from nets on their own. It is important to recognize that gaining these skills takes months if not years of dedication to master, but along the way, there are skill-building opportunities with every visit and every bird.
STEP 1: On your first visit to a banding station you will likely only watch the process of extracting birds from nets, processing birds, and recording data. If you are interested and comfortable, you may release one or more birds. We will show you basic grips that ensure you are grasping the bird safely, and show you how to pass birds between hands and among people.
STEP 2: Perhaps after your first one or several visits, and you feel comfortable handling birds and moving to the next level, we will ask you to record data. It is important to learn the sequence in which we record data and get comfortable with the various codes before you begin processing birds. At this point we stress that you read and reread the North American Bird Council's Banders Study Guide, USDA Handbook of Field Methods for Monitoring Landbirds, the Louisiana Bird Observatory operational protocol, and literature on aging and sexing birds. These documents can be centrally found in our Docs and Pubs section.
STEP 3: Once you have shown aptitude for quickly recording data without confusion and handle birds comfortably, we will move you to the processing-birds level. It will take a little while to match what you see to the data codes, but you will be accompanied by skilled banders to help you along the way.
STEP 4: All along this journey, you have watched people extract birds from nets, and this is the ultimate and final skill to master. Each extraction presents its own challenge, and as you develop this skill, skilled banders and volunteers will accompany you to provide support and guidance.
What are the three guiding principles? It is always important to remember that bird safely comes before data quality. If you feel a bird is excessively stressed, cut it out of the net or stop recording data to release the bird quickly into a quiet and safe spot away from people. As a part of our focus on bird safely, please ask questions and never put yourself in a situation in which you are uncomfortable.
Some of our volunteers simply participate to see the birds up close, take photographs and/or record data, and never process birds or extract birds from nets. These are some of our most dedicated and exceptional volunteers, ensuring that we have all the fun documented on computer bits and high quality data. Other volunteers with enough time and interest, may become interested in becoming a subpermittee or even get to the point of being interested in running their own station and acquiring a Master Bander's permit.
Interacting with the Public
One of our core missions is to educate the public of all ages in the identification of, the enjoyment and appreciation of, and the conservation of birds and other wildlife. This can be incredibly rewarding, especially for educating the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts. One of the biggest challenges is the need to balance public education with our core values of bird safety and data quality. This may result in a bird being held longer than we might hope, and it is important to constantly monitor for signs of stress in the birds (puffing up, panting, droopy eyes, and lethargy). Visitors to banding stations are typically more than understanding of the need for bird safety and want to see us safely release the bird back into the wild. A team of banders and volunteers can help ensure that questions from the public are answered and that all birds are processed quickly. This is just one more instance in which your help as a volunteer is so valuable!
If you are interested in volunteering with or receiving updates from the Louisiana Bird Observatory, please do not hesitate to contact us or visit us on facebook.