Island volunteers contribute to global birding study

Not too far off the beaten path, in a wooded area near the Pedder Bay Marina, a group of volunteers with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory are getting some hands-on experience, learning about birds.

“It’s really cool, just to be able to be so close to them,” said one volunteer, Rebecca Reader-Lee.

The group is tagging different species of birds found at its Metchosin outpost with ID bands that help track their numbers and movements.

“You get to learn what they’ve been eating, are they planning to leave soon? Or have they been molting their feathers?” said Reader-Lee.

It is a regular program for the team, but this weekend, they are also taking part in the global Big Day of Birding, an event that encourages groups from around the world to record their sightings on a centralized website.

“Countries that have higher biodiversity will also compete with one another,” explained volunteer David Bell. “So, like, Columbia, Peru and Brazil usually vie for the top spots on these events because they have over 1,000 species that they can see in a day with all the different birders there.”

That’s an unfair advantage if you are going for numbers, but here on Vancouver Island, there are a few species that are unlikely to be found anywhere else in North America, Bell said.

“There’s a few specialties,” said Bell. “The Northern Pygmy Owl that we caught here this morning would be a pretty good one.”

The group sets up and uses nets to catch the birds in their natural environment. Once they are identified and documented, they are set free.

“Citizen science is contributing data that could never be afforded by governments or institutions,” said volunteer Ann Nightingale. “Our volunteers usually contribute usually around 10,000 hours a year for this.”

Those are hours well spent for these birders, observing and learning about the animals that they love most.