Welcome to part two of this short series on gal bird banders. Katie Barnes, 29, is a professional bird bander and lead biologist for the Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program on Alabama's Gulf coast. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Barnes has an impressive history of bird handling across the US and internationally (Costa RIca). Now stationary for the first time in years on a two-year term with Birmingham Audubon, Barnes marvels at having her own place after spending her 20s on the road doing field work. She also loves being a Yankee in the deep South, where she shared with me that she's a "Damn Yankee!"--someone from above the Mason Dixon line who came and never left. She's lived on the Gulf Coast for four years for her work, so welcomed this permanent position.
I found her through the wonderful algorithm of Instagram, where she posts her field photos as the playfully named but not totally accurate (considering she's a pro) @ibird4fun. Barnes and I emailed and Face Timed over several weeks, and I had the pleasure of meeting her pet blue Quaker parakeet, Skye Mall (Barnes has a sense of humor, can you tell?), which sat attentively on her shoulder as we chatted.
How did you become a bird bander?
Katie Barnes: I was introduced to bird banding as a college student (age 18). I began volunteering with Northern Saw-whet Owl banding a few evenings a week at Powdermill Avian Research Center (PARC) in Rector, PA. Soon after I began assisting with passerine (songbird) banding. Received my training from PARC under the guidance of North American Banding Council trainer Robert Mulvihill, who was the bander-in-charge at the time. He now is an Ornithologist for the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Additionally, he was on my Master's thesis research committee and has been an influential mentor in my pursuit to becoming a trained bird bander.
How did you end up on the Gulf Coast?
KB: Prior to my move to Alabama, I've been traveling the US working various field jobs. Field Tech/bird bander for a PhD candidate in Rhode Island, Bird Bander for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher for SWCA Environmental Consultants in Arizona/Nevada/California, Graduate assistant banding Louisiana Waterthrush for my Master's thesis, Bird bander at PARC, Wildlife/Forestry Biologist in west-central Louisiana banding endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and running a MAPS bird banding station (passerines), Coastal Bird Technician for Audubon Louisiana (Coastal Stewardship Program) monitoring and banding Least Terns, Wilson's Plovers, Common Nighthawks, Bird banding intern for Costa Rica Bird Observatories (CRBO) banding neotropical migrants and neotropical residents across various habitats in Costa Rica (three months). This list is the paid seasonal work I've done.
Now I am the lead biologist for the Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program, monitoring and protecting nesting seabirds and shorebirds across Mobile and Baldwin counties (coastal Alabama). I'm working on obtaining a permitted banding project for Least Terns, Snowy Plovers, and Wilson's Plovers next season (2019).
It is our very first year so the program is being built from the ground up and has lots of room for growth and expansion. We are currently in our first field season, and I'm learning where Least Terns and Snowy Plovers nest in Alabama. Planning to band more within this project in 2019. This is a grant-funded position with potential for funds for the next 10 years. Currently on a two-year term and loving it!
In the meantime, I continue to remain active in banding with collaborators in Alabama and Louisiana.