Recently I had the privilege of going with a group of photographers to a bird banding station in Plymouth—Manomet Center ForConservation Sciences. In the roughly forty years the center has been operating, the center has banded more than 350, 000 birds.
The coastal acres are thickly wooded. Fine mesh nets edge trails and capture low flying birds. Volunteers check the nets hourly and gently extricate any birds that have become entangled, then band them and send them on their way.
Because the staff knew we were coming—twenty of us with our cameras—they had held onto a few birds for us to photograph up close.
What became quickly apparent was the personality of each species. Some are cooperative and preen for the camera, some are flighty and flustered at being the center of attention, some peck at the handler, and others resort to unusual postures, like the blue jay who bent its head at a ninety degree angle to its body and stuck his beak in the air, resisting gentle "rearrangement" attempts for the camera . Some just patiently await release.
The birds were in the care of volunteers who know just how to hold them and what to expect. They are calm and measured and make no sudden moves to startle the birds. In fact there are several previously banded chickadees who’ve discovered that the food placed in walk-in traps is worth repeated capture and release from such kind souls.
But as much as I appreciated seeing the birds up close, and as much as I recognize the value of the ongoing study of migrant birds, I couldn’t shake an uncomfortable feeling at seeing such wild creatures in human hands.
How would I do if a being many times my size clamped an ID to my ankle and then said, “Go in peace?” I'd probably be one of the species who peck at the handler. The birds seem none the worse for their momentary fear. I’d still be having nightmares…unless I was in hands as gentle and caring as those at Manomet.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will...” ~Charlotte Bronte