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What’s Your Story, Swainson’s Thrush?

swthBy Robert Frey, Klamath Bird Observatory Research Biologist

While the information collected from banding birds has many and varied values, what can really excite a bander is catching a bird with a band that looks odd or unfamiliar. The band might have a strange number, which makes you think the bird was banded far away, or it might be old and worn, suggesting a long-lived and maybe long-traveled individual.

Last week, KBO biologists banding at the Willow Wind Community Learning Center long-term mist netting station (along Bear Creek on the east end of Ashland, Oregon) caught a Swainson’s Thrush with an intriguing looking band on its right leg. The band was worn smooth along its edges and the numbers on it seemed vaguely familiar, or then again, perhaps not.

We recorded the band number and determined that this thrush was at least one year old, having hatched during a previous year’s breeding season. We then released the bird, allowing it to continue on its way.

Later in the day, with curiosity piqued, we searched for the band number in KBO’s banding database and—lo and behold—there it was.

KBO initially captured and banded this Swainson’s Thrush in early August 2011 at the Willow Wind station (in a net some 60 feet from the net it was captured in last week). During this first encounter, it was determined that the thrush hatched during the 2011 breeding season.

Swainson’s Thrushes are not known to nest in the Rogue Valley, although they commonly nest in the surrounding mountains. When we initially encountered our thrush in 2011, it was likely just beginning its first migratory journey to its eventual winter home in Mexico or Central or South America. Since that first fall migration, this thrush has made two continental return flights to its North America nesting location in southern Oregon, or farther north in the Pacific Northwest. When we encountered this bird last week, it was beginning its third journey to the Neotropics. We hope to see it again … this long-lived world traveler. ¡Buen viaje amigo emplumado! (Safe journey feathered friend!)