Published on November 12, 2022

Banding Station Records a New Species and an Old Friend

Grasshopper Sparrow2_fall 2022

Fall often brings unexpected birds on Cape Cod. In part, it’s due to the Cape’s seaward position offering hundreds of miles of shoreline and foraging habitat as well as shelter from ocean storms, especially to young songbirds making their first migrations.

The bird that made the most news this fall was a first for Cape Cod—a young Vermilion Flycatcher that spent five days delighting birders on the bayside in Brewster when he should have been no further north than the southwest US or the Gulf coast.

A First for the Banding Station

At around the same time, our bird banding station recorded its first ever Grasshopper Sparrow—not quite as exotic as the flycatcher, but a bird that has become rare on the Cape as open fields have been overtaken by woods, development, and a lack of fire. It’s now listed as a threatened species in Massachusetts and is only reliably found on maintained grasslands on the Upper Cape.

“It took us a while to figure out what we had,” says master bander James Junda. “At first we thought it might be a Dickcissel.”

Nearly a hundred years ago, the Grasshopper Sparrow, named for its sweet, buzzy song, was a common bird on the property, which back then was the Austin Ornithological Research Station. The Austins also frequently banded another grassland sparrow, the Vesper Sparrow. It, too, is hard to find here now.

A Special Bird

banded wren's nest

James also reports meeting up again with a bird he first met five years ago—not a rarity, but a Carolina Wren. It was a bird he banded and then monitored one spring while living at the dorm where the wren built a nest inside the screened-in porch, using a hole in the screen to come and go.  

James recently encountered the bird again in a mist net along Silver Spring. “ I saw a Carolina Wren with a nice, worn silver band on his leg, which I knew would be an interesting capture. And it turned to be my favorite bird!”

In other years, James’s wren has nested in the canoe rack next to the dorms and in the nearby workshop (in a coffee can; see photo at right.)The year the wrens nested in the dorm porch James made sure the young birds were able to figure out how to get through the screen when it came time to fledge. “ Those birds and I were essentially roommates!”  he adds.

The bird banders have wrapped up their season and, like some of the birds that passed through this fall, will return in April.