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Gary Lee records hundreds of banded birds in his log every year. He recently re-caught a chickadee he had banded in 2009. Photo: David Sommerstein
Gary Lee records hundreds of banded birds in his log every year. He recently re-caught a chickadee he had banded in 2009. Photo: David Sommerstein

Listen: How do you catch and band a chickadee?

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The cold doesn't stop a good share of birds from thriving in the North Country, and it's a good time for birders to get to know their local birds... one...you can see them without all those leaves in the way. And two...they probably get to know you, too, through your bird feeders.

Retired New York State Forest Ranger Gary Lee is one of northern New York's expert birders, and he takes it a step further. He spends much of his winters banding birds - chickadees, in particular - at his home in Inlet. A dozen bird feeders are scattered around the yard of his home in Inlet, NY.

Lee stretches what looks like a fine-meshed volleyball net to snag the birds. David Sommerstein stopped by to see bird banding up close and sent this Heard Up North, which first aired in May 2013.

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By attaching a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to a bird's leg or wing, Lee is able to make a detailed study of different types of birds. He enjoys rediscovering birds he's previously banded, like two chickadees he'd banded in 2009 that he caught again just recently.  

Gary Lee is a retired NYS Forest Ranger and licensed bird bander. Photo: David Sommerstein
Gary Lee is a retired NYS Forest Ranger and licensed bird bander. Photo: David Sommerstein
The chickadee’s mating call is known as the "fee-bee" call. Lee says the male that has the nicest mating call catches the most females, but “the female will mate with more than one different male because she finds that one will have a better call than the one she had before.”

In order to band the birds you have to catch them first in a net, and that's not easy. Lee says that (not surprisingly) the birds are not always willing. But you can't band a bird until it's untangled, and sometimes the birds get annoyed: "You do not want to hold the bird any longer than you have to.”

Lee keeps track of the birds he captures and bands in a banding book. Often, the process of banding and recording the data takes two people: one person banding the bird and the other recording the bird’s information.

Lee gets a lot of satisfaction from bird banding: “To see the characteristics of a bird through binoculars and have one in your hand and see that the coloration and the feathers, and open their wings and look under their wings, and look at them at them real close, it's neat."

See a slideshow of photos showing licensed master bander Gordon Howard at work banding birds of various species during the May banding season. Howard is a colleague of Lee's in the Crown Point Bird Banding Association.

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