McGILL BIRD OBSERVATORY

INFORMATION FOR VOLUNTEERS

INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

Since 2008, McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) has offered seasonal internships for those interested in gaining extensive practical experience in the operation of a migration monitoring station. View the English or French versions of our current internship program outline, and see below for some additional information.  There will be a limited number of positions available for each migration season; contact us if you are interested in participating.

Roles and responsibilities for MBO Interns

Interning at an observatory is one of the best ways to learn how to identify birds by sight and sound, how to safely trap, band and release them, and how to best communicate the aims and techniques of migration research to the general public.  By immersing yourself during the internship, you will obtain the daily practice required to master these tasks, hopefully allowing these to become second-nature.

This document outlines the tasks and responsibilities of an MBO intern, from novice to observer, to extractor and finally to bander. All interns should begin by becoming familiar with the MBO protocol as well as the job descriptions for MBO volunteers, and are also strongly encouraged to further explore the remainder of the MBO website.

Bird safety is the first and foremost consideration at MBO.  The best way to minimize stress and the potential for injury while the bird is being banded is for it to be banded by someone who is very comfortable with handling, who knows what the species is without any doubt, and who is able to quickly age and sex it.  Thus, a good bander must also be a good extractor and a good observer. Interns are expected to closely observe the bander-in-charge and other experienced volunteers who may be involved in the training process, and will be required to demonstrate a certain level of skill and knowledge before starting to band birds.

Banders-in-training (BITs)

Interns and other long-term volunteers who are BITs must be excellent extractors, able to swiftly, carefully, and calmly deal with all extractions with confidence, while recognizing that sometimes two sets of eyes (and hands) are better than one. There is no place for pride or ego in any aspect of bird handling. Bird safety comes first. A good extractor has lots of patience and gets lots of practice. Here, there is no substitute for practical experience: the more birds handled the better.  However, it is critical that the extractor-in-training listens and watches Banders-in-charge (BICs) carefully as they extract birds, since tips and tricks derived from years of experience may prove invaluable if a bird is badly tangled.  A good extractor is familiar with the different grips, and is therefore comfortable when it comes to actually placing a band on a bird.  The series of motions required for banding can also be practiced at home with a pair of ordinary pliers, a button, marble or screw representing the band, and a stuffed bird.  Simply being comfortable with the steps to take during banding can significantly reduce the stress of those first few bands.

BITs must be good observers.  One of the best ways to improve species identification is to practice at every opportunity, whether it is during census with someone who is a Class 1 observer, reading through field guides, or identifying while extracting: practice makes perfect.  The better your identification skills, the better and faster you will be at banding, and the less time spent handling each bird, the better.

BITs must be comfortable with the key points of ageing and sexing species commonly handled at MBO.  BITs must also be familiar with the different moult strategies as well as the names and structures of the different feathers.  It is much better to know what to look for before you have the bird in the hand, than to have the bird in the hand before deciding to learn what you need to look for by leafing through Pyle, the foremost reference for ageing and sexing passerines (Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA).  BITs should practice ageing and sexing by scribing for the BIC, paying attention to what the BIC is doing and in what order, and attempting to age and sex all birds along with the BIC.  It is also highly recommended to read through Pyle’s species accounts and the MBO photo ID library for the commonly banded birds at MBO so that you are familiar with the key points to look for before ever having to handle the bird.  You will be amazed at how quickly ageing and sexing can be done when you know what to look for in advance, and how much knowing your species will reduce your stress levels, which in turn will likely reduce the stress felt by the bird.

The BICs will agree when a BIT has achieved these important goals, and will then ask if the BIT would like to band.  Until that time, banding is done by BICs only.  We look forward to seeing you progress to the state where you can safely and quickly band your first bird.

Seasonal and daily tasks

Aside from banding, an MBO intern will also learn the ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of running a migration monitoring station.  This will include net set-up procedures at the beginning of the season, and net take-down procedures at the end.  The BIC will show the intern how to run the station on a daily basis (net set-up, net-check scheduling, prioritizing birds, coordinating and training volunteers effectively, safe banding practices, accurate data collection, and data processing at the end of the day). The BIC will also explain the weekly and seasonal routines and considerations associated with the compilation of the weekly and seasonal reports. Daily and weekly schedules will be created for each intern depending on skill level and length of internship.

Running a banding station is not only about birds, but also about people.  On site, the intern is expected to help wherever help is required, be it as a net assistant, an extractor once sufficient training has been undertaken, an observer, a maintenance worker, or a bander.  Everyone is expected to contribute to the running of the station, so a sunny and helpful disposition is certainly a valued asset.  Polite and clear communication is essential, especially in stressful situations.  To help in their training, MBO interns are encouraged to begin teaching new volunteers as soon as the BIC indicates their readiness to do so.  Being able to explain what you have just learned is one of the best ways to truly understand the material. 

2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.