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Bird Notes | Banding program tracks one-time Myrtle Beach oriole to British Columbia

A Baltimore Oriole banded in a Myrtle Beach backyard was recovered in British Columbia, Canada.
A Baltimore Oriole banded in a Myrtle Beach backyard was recovered in British Columbia, Canada.

Some folks are aware for the past six years, Lex Glover with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has headed up a winter Baltimore oriole banding project in our state.

A number of backyards across the state host numbers of these beautiful birds in winter, including several in our local area. Over the course of the project, 990 individual birds have been banded, with 158 recaptures. The scope of the project was to get an idea of the distribution, abundance, site fidelity and longevity (among other things) of these winter visitors to South Carolina.

Perhaps the ultimate goal of banding migratory birds is to have “foreign” recaptures, that is birds re-encountered at the other end of their migratory travels, to glean an idea of where the birds travel from or to. In general, the vast majority of banded birds are not encountered again away from their original banding site. However, a male Baltimore oriole banded in a Myrtle Beach backyard in March 2011 achieved the goal when it was recovered in British Columbia, Canada in September 2015.

This is near the western-most edge of the species known range, and overlaps somewhat with the range of Bullock’s oriole, the Baltimore oriole’s close cousin (the two species were for a time considered sub-species and combined as the Northern oriole, and are known to hybridize where their ranges overlap.) This event helps shed some light on the origins of these birds some of us have as backyard visitors each winter, and reinforces a comment made by Dr. Jim Rising, who has studied these species extensively, during a conversation I had with him some years ago regarding a somewhat different looking oriole visiting my feeders one winter.

Curious as the whether it might be a Bullock’s oriole, I made some photos and sent them to Rising for his input. He replied while the bird was not a Bullock’s, it appeared to have Bullock’s in its ancestry.

Unfortunately, budget constraints preclude continuation of the oriole banding project. However, the survey of winter orioles in South Carolina will continue, and one source of data is the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, scheduled for Feb. 12 to 15 this year. A citizen science project, the GBBC seeks to take a snapshot of winter bird distribution and abundance, with data available to researchers for analysis and comparison.

Participation is free, and merely requires making observations of birds at a spot (backyard feeders, neighborhood, park, natural area, wildlife refuge, etc.) and reporting online the highest number of individuals of each species seen.

For more info you can contact me or visit http://gbbc.birdcount.org.