Remarkable Recapture of a Migratory Thrush

By Brandon Breen, Klamath Bird Observatory Science Communications

swth_livaudaisBreaking News! Former KBO Intern captures a remarkable bird in the highlands of western Colombia, 2,714 miles from where it was originally banded!

Andrés Henao and colleagues were banding birds this week in the highlands of Colombia near the town of Las Margaritas, and on December 17th they noticed that one of the migratory birds in their mist-nets had already been banded with a small metal tag on its leg.  The band was heavily worn, suggesting this bird had a story to tell.

First, the biologists identified the bird as a Swainson’s Thrush and recorded the band number —2251-27131—double-checking the number. Then they carefully and quickly collected additional data about the bird, data that help determine the bird’s condition, before releasing it back into the wild.  Afterward the biologists continued their banding operation, giving each additional bird that they captured equal attention and care.

When they completed the day’s banding effort, Andrés contacted his former teacher, KBO Banding Project Lead Robert Frey, to tell him the exiting news: “We recaptured a banded migratory bird today, and based on the inscription on the band, it looks like the bird was originally banded in the United States with a tag issued by the Bird Banding Laboratory.”

SWTH map 20131218bbTogether, Robert and Andrés logged onto the Banding Lab’s website to enter the recaptured band number. Immediately, the Banding Lab’s web site provided incredible information about the bird!  This individual was banded in spring of 2008, in eastern Nebraska, near the town of Unadilla. At that time the Swainson’s Thrush was determined to be an “after hatch year,” meaning it was at least 1 year old, having hatched during the spring or summer of 2007, or earlier. Five and a half years later the bird was recaptured 2,714 miles from where it was originally encountered.

Foreign Recapture is the term used when a previously banded and captured and released by a different permit than originally banded it.

The Banding Lab will be contacting the original bander, and we will learn even more about this individual migratory bird.  Swainson’s Thrushes breed throughout Canada and Alaska, as well as in pockets in the western United States, in the northern Great Lakes states, and in northern New England. They winter in southern Mexico, Central America, and throughout much of western South America.

The Swainson’s Thrush of this story winters in Colombia and likely breeds (and was likely hatched) in central Canada. Twice each year this individual flies between the two locations, passing through Nebraska on the way. So far, this 1 ounce bird has completed at least six round-trip migrations.

Andres Henao Murillo 2010 Banding Intern 2While this Swainson’s Thrush recovery shows us the connection between Colombia as a wintering site and Nebraska as a migratory pathway, this bird also illustrates the connections we have as conservation biologists working together to learn about and conserve migratory birds throughout their annual life cycles on a hemispheric scale.  Klamath Bird Observatory works closely with many partners, including the United States Forest Service’s International Programs, to develop international conservation capacity in Latin America.

Each year we invite several international interns to participate in our intensive bird banding training program.  We then work with these partners to help them develop bird monitoring and conservation programs in their home countries.  Andrés Henao trained with Klamath Bird Observatory for two seasons as a bird banding intern. Andrés is now training colleagues in his native Colombia, and he recently participated as an instructor in an international training program in Brazil.

Klamath Bird Observatory is proud to partner with these early-career conservation biologists in Latin America who are contributing information and developing capacity that ultimately will allow us all to become better stewards of our shared migratory birds.

We will share additional details about this remarkable Swainson’s Thrush as we learn more. Stay tuned!


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