Mist-netting birds is a serious endeavor that should only be done by trained personnel for valid scientific purposes. But let's be honest, it can also be a lot of fun. Walking up to a mist-net often feels like opening a present, you never know what you are going to get. Usually it's a delightful bird who will contribute a bit of data and beauty to your day, and then be on its way. But sometimes... things get strange.
For instance, at a recent meeting IBP Board member Ivan Samuels shared his experience of walking up to a mist-net near Big Sur to find he had caught a piece of cheese.
"It was mozzarella I believe," says Samuels. "So no banding guide was needed to ID my catch, but I still wondered how it arrived." It was a real headscratcher until he remembered that there were people and food nearby. "At first I suspected it was a practical joke, but ultimately concluded a California Scrub Jay must have flown into the net from the adjacent campground with the cheese in its bill and then bounced out of the net, leaving its cargo behind!"
It's always fun to share stories from the field, so we decided to ask around the mist-netting community to see if anyone else had "strange catch" stories to share. Boy, did they ever! Here are a few of our favorites.
Hallie Daly's strangest catch? Strawberries. "I worked on a project with UC Davis assessing the overall impact of birds on organic strawberry agriculture," she says. The mist nets were placed along the fields. "Often they would be harvesting strawberries while we were mist netting, and they literally throw the rejects out. So when I checked my net we had like 30 strawberries," says Daly. "And yes we ate them."
Suzanne Tomassi also mist netted a meal– and the predator that caught it. "We caught a fish. At first my brain wouldn't wrap around it - I just stared at it not really knowing what it was. Then I saw the kingfisher in the net," says Tomassi. "Craziest part is that my colleague held the dead fish by the tail as I released the bird, and the kingfisher actually grabbed the fish as it flew off. Not kidding."
Gabrielle Coulombe shared another story of a meal interrupted, but with a happy ending for–the meal. "One of the most surprising things I found in my mist net was this little Least Flycatcher nestling," says Coulombe. The nestling was far too young to fly into the net on its own, so how did it get there? "We were puzzled because the only nest we could find nearby was still too far from the net for the nestling to fall into, so the only explanation is that a predator dropped it."
Coulombe and co-workers organized a rescue. "We were able to borrow a ladder and put the uninjured nestling back in the nest," she says. "The other chick in the nest was at the exact same stage of development as our nestling and the parent was soon back on the nest, so we were confident it was the correct nest." That was one lucky Least Flycatcher nestling!
Thanks to all of the mist netters who shared their stories with us! We didn't have space to include them all, but we enjoyed them all. And thank you for the vital work you do in the field, mist netting and banding birds. The data you collect on age, reproductive status, molt and more is critical to our understanding of bird populations and their conservation. May your nets stay untangled and may the rain hold off until it's time to close them!