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By Chanapa Tantibanchachai
Have some free time this summer? Looking for a new hobby? Learn how to bird band in Red Butte Canyon with the U’s Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab, led by assistant professor Çağan Şekercioğlu (pronounced Cha-awn Shay-care-gee-oh-loo).
Now in its fourth year, the lab’s bird banding site in Red Butte Canyon, a protected Research Natural Area directly behind the U, relies on citizen scientist members of the Salt Lake City community in its efforts to collect data about the types and numbers of birds that pass through the canyon. The data are used to determine bird community ecology, composition of species, sexes and ages, examine population trends and monitor breeding bird populations throughout the years.
The banding season lasts roughly from mid-April through October each year, with volunteers heading out to the station three times each week from sunrise until noon. On a good day, up to 15-20 birds can be caught.
Currently, the lab hosts six to seven regular undergraduate volunteers and two regular high school volunteers. Members of the Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park, the Great Salt Lake Audubon and two to three U classes also visit the bird banding site regularly.
The volunteer-based nature of the lab’s bird banding research provides university students and community members alike the opportunity to directly learn about avian ecology. Volunteer citizen scientists learn the proper techniques for extracting captured birds from nets, learn how to identify different bird characteristics such as age and sex and learn about the science behind their efforts along the way.
Kylynn Parker, a U student who has volunteered for the lab for three years, said she originally started volunteering because she wanted to make a tangible difference in the field of conservation.
“I wanted to go out in the field and contribute to the overall understanding of the role birds play in ecosystems in Utah and how habitat fragmentation, climate change and human activities affect avian behavior and survival” she said.
The benefits of volunteering with the lab go beyond gaining a new hobby and learning the nuanced differences between bird songs, and also provide volunteer members like Parker with invaluable transferable skills for school and the workforce.
“Volunteering has been more useful to my education far more than materials learned in the ecology classes I have taken at the U. Volunteering requires that you apply concepts you have learned in class directly to the work you are doing in a lab or other career-seeking job,” said Parker.
“Being actively involved in a scientific research project is critical for getting a good university education,” Şekercioğlu said. “Especially in STEM fields, participating in scientific projects significantly improves undergraduate education. Having a federally protected Research Natural Area in our backyard is an incredible opportunity for the U and we hope that our lab’s bird banding and mammal camera trap research projects make Red Butte and our scientific research there more accessible to the public while improving undergraduate education and training citizen scientists in Salt Lake City. People love birds and bird banding is also an excellent way to provide public outreach and environmental education.”
To see more photos of birds caught in Red Butte Canyon, follow Çağan Şekercioğlu’s Instagram.
Chanapa Tantibanchachai is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.