Bird-Friendly Communities

Juncos, Scrub Jays and Phainopepla

Seasonal Ornithologist Kim Geissler shares an update on January bird banding at Starr Ranch. This month included some return visitors and new species.

Last week at Audubon Starr Ranch, we wrapped up the January MoSI banding pulse with fewer birds than in November and December, but we did capture some really exciting species. Over the course of three days of banding, we captured eighteen new birds, eleven recaptures, and one unbanded bird with a total of eight species. Our total of thirty birds is slightly higher than in January 2016, when they captured twenty-six birds total. Last January, banding was cancelled due to rain.

This month, Dark-eyed Juncos were the most common species, with fourteen captures. Multiple subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco have occurred at Starr Ranch, but this month we only caught Oregon Juncos. Hermit Thrushes were captured 7 times, making them the second most common. 

The oldest known bird that was caught this month was a recaptured Oak Titmouse. This bird was originally banded in 2012 as an after hatch year, making it at least 7 years old. To put this in perspective, the oldest Oak Titmouse on record was 9 years old.

Oak Titmouse at Starr Ranch in January 2018 Photo: Tom Sheffield

One of the more interesting captures this month was a California Scrub-Jay. Technically, it is the first California Scrub-Jay ever captured at Starr Ranch because it is the first scrub-jay caught after the Western Scrub-Jay was divided into different species. California Scrub-Jays are common residents here, but they are not often captured due to their relatively large size, intelligence, and affinity towards scrubland, as opposed to oak woodland, where most of our nets are located.

California Scrub Jay Photo: Tom Sheffield

My personal favorite bird this month was a female Phainopepla. This was the first Phainopepla I have seen in hand. We will often hear these birds calling from high up in trees,  but they do not often fly low enough to be caught in mist nets. This bird was banded on the 18th, and we were lucky enough to catch her again the following day.

Phainopepla at Starr Ranch Photo: Tom Sheffield

I'd like to thank all of the volunteers that helped with banding this month, and a special thanks to Tom Sheffield who took all of these amazing photos. You can see all of the photos from this month on our flickr page at

We’ve been monitoring birds at Starr Ranch for a long time thanks Sandy DeSimone who initiated the partnership with the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) back in 1999 to ensure that bird banding and monitoring at Starr would be long term and ongoing.

Starr is in its 17th season of winter migrant bird banding (“MoSI”) and 19th season of breeding season bird banding (“MAPS”) in in partnership with IBP. Starr Ranch banding projects are some of the longest term programs run by IBP and were featured in both the MoSI and MAPS newsletters earlier this year.  The MoSI station at Starr is one of 200 stations in 15 countries that collect crucial data.  The data collected give us information about the movements and habitat needs of migrant birds across the full annual cycle.   This information is critical for understanding and predicting the effects of climate change and habitat degradation on bird populations.

At Starr Ranch we also have long term monitoring projects in sensitive habitats, looking at the Coastal CA Gnatcatcher and four other rare coastal sage scrub songbirds, Grasshopper Sparrow and Western Meadowlarks (grassland habitat quality indicators), and riparian and oak woodland birds.

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Kim Geissler is Seasonal Ornithologist at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County, CA.   

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