“Blinged-out birds” at SUNY New Paltz: This fall, everyone can help with campus bird research

Take a close look at the birds hanging around the SUNY New Paltz campus this fall, and you’ll notice that some are sporting some new accessories: multi-colored bands on their legs.

If you can safely take a picture of one of these color-banded birds, share it on Instagram and comment @newpaltzornithology – you’ll be helping campus bird researchers map how individual birds use our campus neighborhood.

Assistant Professor Kara Belinsky has dedicated her time at New Paltz to building a bird research network: bird feeders, nesting boxes, and a passionate collective of student assistants, with whom she works capturing, marking and tracking the ecology and behavior of different kinds of birds on campus.

The research has revealed a great deal about the avian members of our campus community – like what species thrive in which areas, and what rare migratory birds make pit stops at the College before moving on to their next destinations.

“In the past, when we’d capture the birds, we just put on a little metal band, with a unique number that can be traced to my permit,” Belinsky said. “That system allows us to count the number of birds of each species on campus.”

Now, the research is entering a new phase, and Belinsky is calling on all (human) New Paltz residents to participate in citizen science and help move this project forward.

“We want to know about the behavior of birds, and how individual birds use our campus in areas of differing urbanization,” she said. “To do that, we add three more bands to the birds’ legs, using different color combinations for each bird. The different combinations are like a name tag that we can see from a distance.

“This way, if we see a bird that has, say, blue over silver, yellow over green, we can say, ‘Hey! There’s Bill, one of our blinged-out birds!’”

With two bands on each leg, researchers can easily identify individual birds by color combination

This system makes it easy to encourage “citizen science,” inviting people on campus – including those who may not have a strong background in biology or other sciences – to contribute to research that may someday factor into decisions about campus construction and facilities management.

“The on campus color banding is such a good way to connect with people,” said Laura Stark ’17 (Biology), a recent New Paltz graduate who has assisted Belinsky for multiple summers. “We get so many people walking by when we’re working, and it’s a good opportunity to explain what we’re doing and why it’s important. People love birds, so it’s a good way to help open their eyes to what’s around them.

“As the data helps us further our understanding of how these birds behave, we’ll not only be able to make recommendations for bettering their habitats on our own campus, but we can bring those ideas to be replicated on campuses anywhere,” Stark said.

To learn more about the bird research on campus, or to share your bird updates, contact send a note to NPcolorbandedbirds@gmail.com, or visit the Biology department to learn more about classes and opportunities for student research.

And don’t forget – share those bird pictures @newpaltzornithology!