When scientists need to capture birds for research, they often use a mist net, a length of fine mesh strung between two poles on the ground. But what about catching birds that stay up in the treetops? Researchers studying Red-headed Woodpeckers in Virginia used fishing rods to cast lines up into the canopy so they could hoist nets up to the level of the woodpeckers’ nest cavities.
Catching Woodpeckers High in the Trees
Written by Rebecca Heisman
This is BirdNote.
[Red-headed Woodpecker drumming and calls]
When scientists need to capture birds for research, they often use a mist net, a length of fine mesh strung between two poles on the ground. But what about catching birds that stay up in the treetops?
That was the challenge facing ornithologists in eastern Virginia studying how Red-headed Woodpecker parenting differs between the sexes. Male and female Red-headed Woodpeckers look identical, so the scientists had to analyze their DNA to sort them out. This meant somehow catching them as they came and went from nest cavities high in dead trees and giving them ID bands.
The solution: go fishing. Well, kind of.
The researchers used fishing rods to cast ropes up into the trees, then lifted the nets with a pulley system. [pulley sound] They’d suspend a net between two trees so it hung near a woodpecker nest. They managed to catch and band 61 birds.
This peek into woodpecker family life showed that males and females both brought the nestlings food, but they split up other parenting duties. Males were in charge of removing feces from the nest, and females did more incubating and brooding.
[Red-headed Woodpecker calls and drumming]
Just one more ingenious way that scientists are gathering info on our feathered neighbors.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Editor: Jazzi Johnson
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-headed Woodpecker ML342663431 recorded by Lucas Schrader. Red-headed Woodpecker Xeno Canto 711382 recorded by
John A. Middleton Jr.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote December 2022
Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# banding-07-2022-12-30 banding-07