Big Bald Bird Banding

Remembering from two years ago

This blog posting has been on the back burner for quite a while, but it was such an enjoyable birding experience, it deserves posting.
Sheree’ gifted the guided experience to Scott and I. She’s good at that!
The science behind bird banding, and geotagging in general, is so exciting, so useful, so revealing. Observing for a few hours made me want to stay for a few weeks. As soon as I got home, I sent BBBS an email, volunteering my time.

This type of hands-on science, out-of-doors, with birds, is so engaging and educational. The data collection was so thorough and detailed. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but many days during the season are cold and nasty; it takes very dedicated scientists and volunteers to make this work.
In a separate location, an open area on the bald, they have a raptor banding station. That would have been a very cool activity to experience, but no such luck this day. They also capture and band owls at night.

Ventures Birding Tours

Clifton Avery, Ventures Birding Tours, was our guide. He’s the tall guy without a hat. The guide I want when avoiding getting lost in the Amazon jungles. Seriously, he was awesome. Well-prepared, knowledgable, and patient. 

With a wide diversity of birds netted each day, a variety of leg band sizes is needed.

Big Bald Banding Station (BBBS) is one of very few monitoring stations in the U.S. that band songbirds, raptors and owls. An average of ~2000 songbirds are captured, banded and safely released each autumn migration at Big Bald (click Songbirds).

The Big Bald Hawkwatch counts an average of ~3000 migrating raptors each autumn of 15 different species, counting over 43,000 birds of prey from 2004 to 2018. The raptor trapping substation lures and bands approximately 100 birds of prey of 10 different species (click Raptors).

Bird banding activities at Big Bald were initiated in 1978 by Dr. George Mayfield and Cleo Mayfield of Columbia, Tennessee.  Their passion for birds helped to establish the Big Bald Banding Station, a volunteer-staffed project which gathers data valuable for identifying trends in bird population health and serves as an environmental education resource for area students of all ages.

A tangled mess. Great care is taken to not injure the birds.

Once you get the hang of it, most birds can be untangled in 5-10 sec.. This Junco has a leg band already, perhaps from last year?

BBBS is located high on Little Bald Mountain at 5390 feet above sea level (1643m), inside the Appalachian Trail corridor in Cherokee National Forest, Unicoi County, Tennessee.  The banding station is located in edge habitat adjacent to managed grassy bald, including perennial shrubs, native heath thickets, and northern hardwood forest type. On clear days, the wide open vistas present expansive views of 360 degrees, with the Black mountain range and Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States, 20 miles to the southeast.

Big Bald Mountain has been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program. Big Bald is part of the Southern Blue Ridge IBA, which includes several high altitude sites such as Roan Mountain, Unaka Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This north-south corridor provides migratory, breeding, and wintering habitat for numerous bird species.

Netted and bagged birds waiting processing. They will not be in the bags for very long.

To keep birds safe until processing, they are kept dark and quiet in paper bags.

Checking for fat reserves that can be seen under the feathers. More fat equals better chance the bird will reach its final migration destination. Many of the species are on a journey from as far north as Canada all the way to the Caribbean, Latin and South America.

Bird is weighed while inside a PVC pipe.

Installing leg band

Collecting feather data

A guide for aging birds.

Species count from 2019

Total 2994 individuals of 62 species


  1. Tennessee Warbler = 556
  2. Swainson’s Thrush = 402
  3. Black-throated Blue Warb. = 383
  4. Slate-colored Junco = 285
  5. Bay-breasted Warbler = 222

See the entire list here

Hope you enjoyed learning about Big Bald Banding Station.  Enter your email address below to follow future adventures from Wild Place, Wild Birds, and please say hello in the comment section. 

Yes, one days worth of bags.

Hawk counts

Data book

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