Bird Banders Flock to Fort Morgan


Fort Morgan, Alabama, located on Mobile Bay at the end of State Highway 180, has long been a birding hotspot, especially in spring and fall as migrants pass through on their way to or from South America. The historic fort has been the site of various seasonal bird banding operations over the years. In 2019, the nonprofit Birding Coalition of the Americas launched a banding program at the fort, and from October 1—7 will open its fall, 2021, bird banding. The program is open to the public and offers an opportunity to observe beautiful  fall migrants up close.

The beautiful Scarlet Tanager spends the summer in the Northeast

Emma Rhodes and Kyle Shepard, both of whom are directors of the Coalition, will be overseeing the banding, which takes place in the old stables area of the fort. In early morning, the team sets out mesh nets to catch the birds, which are carefully removed from the net. After recording the species, gender and weight of each bird, an expert bander applies a numbered band to its leg and it is then freed to go about its daily routine, sadder but probably no wiser.  If the bird is recaptured later at another banding station, observers can determine its migration route and how far it has traveled.  Areas like Fort Morgan are a jumping-off point for birds on their way over the Gulf to the tropics, so birds linger in the area to pack on as much fat as possible to sustain them on the long flight. Kyle, who like Emma trained in bird banding under the Hummer/Bird Study Group’s late founder Bob Sargent, says that sometimes data recovered from the bands reveals an epic journey. In 2010, a Rufous hummingbird banded in Tallahassee,  Florida, was recaptured in Alaska, a distance of 3500 miles.

The tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird makes an epic flight over the Gulf

For Kyle and Emma, the most interesting thing about bird banding is finding answers to unknown questions. Kyle adds “events like our public fall banding at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site serve as an opportunity to expand your current knowledge base about different species and migration. When it comes to seeing details, a bird in the hand really is worth two in the bush.”

For more information about the fall bird banding at Fort Morgan, check their website.

photos courtesy Kyle Shepard

Kathie Farnell
Freelance writer Kathie Farnell lives in Foley, Alabama, ten miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, with her husband, photographer Jack Purser, and a flock of cats. She has written travel articles for print and web publications since 1992, and also produces programming for public television and radio through her nonprofit corporation, Artemis Media Project. The couple enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations and spending time on the Gulf beaches.

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