In case you were wondering what I’ve been doing with my free time, it has mostly involved playing with boobies. The lovely Ms. Melinda Conners (a PhD student at UCSC) has been tagging birds out here for a few years now and had to leave last month to start classes (yuck!) before she could finished tagging all the Red-footed boobies (RFBO’s) that she needed tagged. And for some reason she and her advisor trusted me with the remaining RFBOs… a task I was more than willing to help out with (seeing as how her project is relates directly to what I want to study in grad school). I didn’t have to wait long before getting my name on the permit and have been slappin’ tags on boobies like a crazed woman with a label maker (if you have not ever used a label maker, you might not know what I’m talking about).
Some of you are probably wondering, “whats a tag for and what’s it do?” The tags communicate with a satellite and record the tracks of the bird when it leaves the island to forage at sea. It’s pretty dang cool to see how far they go and what areas different birds prefer for foraging. I’m extremely curious to see how and if these patterns change year to year to year, so hopefully the tagging will continue in years to come. There are so many questions to be asked! Does climate change affect where they go? Do the males prefer certain areas compared to females? Do the birds go to different areas to forage on different prey once their egg has hatched? Do the birds go to the same places on each trip? Most of these questions will remain a mystery for now (especially the last one since only one trip was recorded for each bird)….but that’s what spinning around in my head at the moment (and Melinda’s too I’d bet).
Of course, this could not be possible with out the help of my co-volunteers’ excellent bird wrangling skills. Here is a picture of Sarah getting ready to noose an RFBO for retrieval of one of the tags:
In the process of tagging the birds we have the chance to collect additional data as well; such as morphometrics, opportunistic diet samples (bird vomit), a few feathers, and a bit of blood for later analysis. Here is a picture of me reading calipers post-measurement (note the concentration on the face):
And here is Ruth holding down an RFBO while I do unspeakable things to it:
And here is what a biologist’s tackle box looks like:
When the bird is ready to go the mask is removed and it’s head is marked with a lovely shade of Hibiscus so that the bird can be indentified from a distance:
Then there is the oh so joyous release!
At this point the nest is gaurded from frigatebirds until the bird faithfully returns (usually only a few minutes later). Then all I have to worry about is whether or not the bird comes back from its foraging trip. 🙂
Note: all photos compliments of Dr. Ruth Brown ❤