Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A West Nile virus recipe for a the whole neighborhood


  • Impervious surfaces (roads and roofs work best)
  • Breeding habitat for mosquitoes (ditches and sewer drains) 
  • Mosquitoes (Culex or Aedes
  • Simplified bird community (robins work best but you can substitute house  sparrows) 
  • Mild winters followed by extended dry periods with periodic heavy rains
  • People
  • Serves tens of thousands!
If you have trouble putting together the ingredients, no problem!  

Kits are available 

Just add an urban environment! 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How do you catch a bird?

This is the most asked question when I tell people what I do. Humans aren't exactly equipped to catch birds like a cat.  This is particularly true for me - large, slow, and crazy-eyed.  So how do we gets in our hands to study?

I don't stand still and just grab them....

I don't use a butterfly net...

I use a net like this:

 Don't see it?  That's how it works.  Mist nets are used to safely capture birds so we can take measurements and get samples from birds. Mist nets are nylon or polyester.  Here's a great link to show the structure of a mist net: http://www.afonet.org/banding/index.html.  The mesh size can be tailored to maximize the safety of the birds captured depending on their size. In the picture above you can see a trammel in the upper right corner.  Maybe you see more; my eyes - not so good. Nets typically come in 6 m or 12 m lengths and are 2 m tall.

Here's a close up of the net with a better background.

What the picture on the AFO doesn't show is that there is extra netting that sags below each trammel so that forms a long fold.  Birds hit the net and fall into the fold.  Here's a young house sparrow that I captured in the net. This bird was taken out of the net within 15 second. For the Marcellus project and the disease project, birds are taken out within seconds of falling in. If I'm setting up a string of nets, end-to-end, I check the nets every few minutes. I check more frequently when it's hot out to reduce stress on the bird (which reduces my stress). 

Without mist nets it would be impossible to handle adult birds. We wouldn't be able to get DNA samples, blood samples to know if birds are being exposed to contaminants, band them to understand movements, populations, and behaviors.