"It is a fragile and embarrassing moment before they disappear back into the woods."
August 22, 2012 6:01 AM   Subscribe

Photographer Todd R. Forsgren works with ornithologists to safely capture striking images of birds in nets.
Ornithologists now use mist nets instead of shotguns for data that cannot be obtained with the help of binoculars, microphones, or telephoto lenses. These nearly invisible nets are set up like fences and function as huge spider webs, catching unsuspecting birds. The researcher carefully extracts the bird from the net. Each bird is measured, aged, sexed, and banded with an individually numbered anklet (Audubon’s philopatry experiments with Eastern Phoebes was likely the first bird banding done in the United States). Then the bird is released, unharmed.

Some favorites include:

Adelaide's WarblerCollared AracariWhite-eyed VireoWhite-necked JacobinMontezuma Oropendola
posted by quin (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I understand this doesn't harm the birds and is for Science! and all, but these pictures just make me slightly sad.
posted by papercake at 6:09 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Having extracted a snake (which I'm 99% sure wasn't a cotton mouth) and absolutely didn't have hollow bones from a similar looking chunk of landscaping netting, I'm pretty sure this is a job I don't have the intestinal fortitude or manual dexterity for.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:11 AM on August 22, 2012

Oh man... I hope a bunch of tumblr instagram people don't get any bright ideas from this!
posted by SharkParty at 6:15 AM on August 22, 2012

These are beautiful images, if only because they are of living birds. The sight of a dead songbird is too sad for words.

As a person adopted by a bird, I've found that living with one changes the way you see them. Although tiny and seemingly delicate, many of these little beauties are made of spring steel with the heart of a lion. They are astonishing creatures.

Thanks for the post!
posted by kinnakeet at 6:19 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm reacting like papercake. I know the birds aren't being hurt, just slightly discomfited, but they look really uncomfortable and upset. It's a perfectly okay practice, but I still feel bad for them.
posted by Malor at 6:20 AM on August 22, 2012

Wait, what? The Audubon Society is based on the notoriety of a guy who shot beautiful birds and then pinned them up in crazy poses for paintings?

Huh. I'm glad the way we appreciate nature has changed a bit.
posted by sundaydriver at 6:31 AM on August 22, 2012

These are gorgeous; thanks.

One of this season's interns for the volunteer gig I do (counting hawks as they migrate south) was talking yesterday about some mist-netting she did in Costa Rica. If I were 25 again I'd go in a heartbeat.
posted by rtha at 6:33 AM on August 22, 2012

Very distressing.

Good pictures and all -- I just cannot bear to look at them.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2012

Beautiful pictures! These brightened my morning, thanks.

Remember that the birds are unharmed, and this is a tiny momentary blip for them as they're going about their birdy business. Ultimately, techniques like this gather data to preserve bird populations and are a huge improvement over the way this used to be done.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:05 AM on August 22, 2012

Maybe I've been overly sensitized by living with a very characterful, opinionated bird myself, but I'm reading a lot of attitude into these birds' gazes. The common ground dove is the only one with a sad, sort of derpy "Oh bother, stuck again" look.
Most other birds have some appearance of defiance, like the Oropendola or resistance. The seedeater and yellow throated vireo especially look like they are promising to peck the eyes out of whomever is to blame for their predicament.
And just to round out the anthropomorphizing, the Tody seems to be trying to calm down while furiously trying to come up with a Plan B.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:10 AM on August 22, 2012

In Dreamsnake by Vonda N. MacIntyre (which appears to have won several awards and lots of praise despite being rather pulpy in my memory), the heroine shouts at a dramatic moment "Does no-one care for small things and their pain?" or something to that effect. It's a phrase that sticks in my head and pops out of my mouth all the time because this world must be so bewildering to all the small creatures in it. I wish we were more aware of that and less inclined to discount the pain of small things.

Anyway. These photos are distressing, but delicate. Small things, and their pain, and someone cares.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:11 AM on August 22, 2012

According to wikipedia, the average mortality rate is well under 1%. I thought it was higher than that, but maybe what I've heard includes all the weighing and measuring and stuff. Anyhow, as far as these things go, it does seem to be the most humane way to get data on birds, and that data can help us understand how to protect them, so it's a pretty good deal overall.
posted by snofoam at 7:16 AM on August 22, 2012

I like how the Red-eyed Vireo is mislabeled as Red-eyed Video, which makes me think of insomniac smokers hunched over editing consoles.
posted by OmieWise at 7:22 AM on August 22, 2012

I have helped with bird-banding projects several times. I always felt a little bad for a bird when we would finish banding, let it go, and it would immediately fly back into the mist net.

Also, I swear to God, every time I've been banding, a group of blue jays would gather around the trees nearby and HECKLE anybody that was caught. Little jerks. The one time we actually got a jay in the net, they were not happy about it.
posted by pemberkins at 7:45 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

"i hate my life"
posted by deo rei at 8:01 AM on August 22, 2012

I like the photos. As someone with direct experience with doing bird-banding, I did not have the emotional response many on this thread have had. I believe this to be because I have an understanding of the practice, not scientific detachment.

I spent a summer doing this, and my perception is that it's really not a huge deal for the birds. The study was specifically to understand how different logging practices affected songbird populations, so data-driven policies could be put in place to protect them. It was definitely a noble cause.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:11 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Capt. Hilts
posted by artdrectr at 9:06 AM on August 22, 2012

I misread 'nets' as 'nests', and was all ready to see some great pics of birds looking all happy and cozy, but no.

I suppose this is similar to going thru a police roadblock late on a Saturday night. Momentarily distressing/annoying, but only for a few minutes for most. If only a photographer would do a series of photographs of that...
posted by Fig at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2012

Sans net, that Montezuma Oropendola is fabulous (from Seeing Birds by photographer Ashok Kosla). Perhaps we don't do well with wings, but why can't we grow feathers?
posted by cenoxo at 7:51 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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