Jerry's Banding Project Needs Your Help!

by Doc Weagle

Jerry Pattee and I were close friends for about a dozen years, and during that entire time, Jerry was fascinated by cavity-nesters in general and bluebirds in particular. I have a strong affection for all birds, but Jerry's devotion to bluebirds bordered on obsession. In all areas of life, Jerry rooted for and supported the underdog. I believe that his role as champion to all bluebirds arose, at least in part, from that character trait.

Jerry and I began working with a master bander at the Auburn Sportsmenís Club which led to our co-creating an area banding program about five years ago. When we started our banding program, Neither Jerry nor I could have dreamed that our efforts would become such a success. Students from area high schools and middle schools came to watch us band. Over the years, 200 or more school children attended our banding program, and many were inspired to study birds and ways to protect their habitat. I'm not aware of any other sportsmen's club that offers a banding educational program like ours. In addition to our school banding programs, about 15 to 30 area residents who heard about our efforts through word-of-mouth would drag themselves out of bed at 4:30 a.m. on any given weekend to watch us band song birds. Last year, our program banded 98 bird species. Jerry focused like a laser beam on banding bluebirds. He did everything within his power to foster their return to our area. He single-handedly built, installed and monitored about 100 bluebird boxes, as well as banded over 200 bluebirds. This is in addition to the 1000 other birds banded at Auburn Sportsmen's Club.

It was Jerry's strongly-held belief that 2001 would be the year that all of our hard work in banding and building a strong data base would pay off. He expected to learn whether the parent and fledgling bluebirds were returning to the same nesting areas. This is the primary reason why I am so motivated to keep this program alive, along with our other banding work. Through our banding and data collection, we have documented that many of our warblers return to breed within 20 feet of last years nesting site. This is after migrating thousands of miles! I cannot comprehend how warblers do this, since I cannot travel 50 miles without a map.

In order for Jerry's efforts to continue after his death, the Auburn Sportsmen's Club needs two things: Auburn-area volunteers and donations. Volunteers are needed to monitor Jerry's bluebird trail. I need volunteers to tell me when bluebirds are nesting along Jerry's trail in order for me to check each bluebird's tag status. Birds that have already been tagged will be able to answer the question that nagged Jerry for years: Are the bluebird parents and/or fledglings returning to the same boxes? If we succeed in keeping this project going, it would have made Jerry very happy. Donations are needed to offset the expenses associated with monitoring and maintaining Jerry's 100 plus box trail. Also, we use over 20 mist nets a year for banding purposes. These nets are eight feet high and 40 feet long. They cost about $75.00 each. We lose several each year to age and vandalism. In the past, Jerry and I organized fundraising events, such as bird dinners, in order to replace our nets.

We have accomplished so much already, largely as a result of Jerry's efforts. I do not want to see this program end. If you live in the Auburn vicinity and would like to volunteer your time (and learn a thing or two about banding along the way), please contact me by phone at: (508) 832-6076, or by e-mail: docweagle@hotmail.com. Also, any donation you care to make is hugely needed. Donations may be made in Jerry's name and sent to the Auburn Sportsmen's Club, 50 Elm Street, Auburn MA, 01501.

I visited Jerry's grave for the first time last week on one of the few warm Spring days we've had this year. As I entered the grave yard and looked towards the new headstone with his name engraved upon it, I saw a brilliant shimmer of blue perched on Jerry's headstone. You guessed it: it was one of what certainly will be many bluebird visitors paying respects to Jerry, and perhaps expressing gratitude for all of his efforts on their behalf. It is my goal to keep Jerry's bluebird monitoring and banding program alive to honor the enormous contributions he made to bluebirds.