Tracking migratory birds: a labour of love

Every summer and fall volunteers are up at the crack of dawn to put bands on migratory birds that travel as far as south as Brazil. It's a labour of love for passionate birders in Yukon and beyond.

Volunteers help at the most northern station of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network

Ted Murphy-Kelly, left, with an American Tree Sparrow. Vancouver resident Sonja Panozzo sits beside him. (Dave Croft/CBC)

At sunrise every morning from mid-July to mid-October volunteers take a short walk from their campsite down to the Teslin Lake Bird Observatory.

They unfurl netting that's been strung in long strips along trails and then, for the next six hours, they walk the trails every half hour to untangle birds caught in the nets and take them back to their base on the lakeshore for processing.

The birds are banded, notes are taken about their physical characteristics, and then they are released to continue their long journey south.

An Alder Flycatcher about to be released at the Teslin Lake Bird Observatory. It goes as far south as Brazil during it's migration. (Dave Croft/CBC)
Whitehorse resident Ted Murphy-Kelly has been volunteering here every year since the station opened in 2005.

"It's something I really enjoy doing, it's nice to be in the outdoors, not stuck in a building somewhere, I do have a regular job, but as much as possible I try and get out here and help with the crew," said Kelly.

This week the crew includes Gwen Baluss from Juneau, Alaska, and Vancouver resident Sonja Panozzo.

Panozzo has just graduated from university with a degree in Ecology and is here volunteering for the entire season. She said she wanted more field experience and she's getting lots of it.

Baluss is here for a week. She's been taking part of her holidays at the Teslin observatory every year for the past decade. She's passionate about birds and said there are differences between Yukon and coastal Alaska that make the trip worthwhile.

The Society of Yukon Bird Observatories has one other station at Albert Creek, near Watson Lake, in southeast Yukon. It also runs a bird banding station in Whitehorse.

It's the most northerly member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, a collection of posts across the country that collect information on migratory birds.

Murphy-Kelly says some of the birds banded at the station migrate as far south as Brazil.

Murphy-Kelly retrieves a bird from the netting. The Teslin station bands on average 3,000 birds per season. (Dave Croft/CBC)
"Birds make up a huge part of the ecosystem, in the boreal, so learning more about what's going on with them is important for conservation, the health of the planet, just raising awareness, appreciation and understanding of birds," he said.

The Teslin station bands on average 3,000 birds per year, Murphy-Kelly said. Last year however, it banded 4,100 birds.

About 50 different species are banded each year. Roughly 300 species of birds occur in the territory, he said.