RESEARCH @ Shoals: Appledore Island Migration Banding Station













MAY 2009: Kristen Covino banded the 100,000th bird at the Appledore Island Migration Station (pictured on the left). It was a Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis.

MAY 2015: Sara Morris banded the 120,000th bird at the Appledore Island Migration Station (pictured on right). The bird is a Myrtle or "yellow-rumpled" Warbler, Setophaga coronata.

The banding station began in fall 1981, when David Holmes began regularly banding for three weeks in the fall and about a week each spring. He had been introduced to the island by Elisabeth (Betty) Phinney, who began banding songbirds in migration on Appledore Island to show students terrestrial fauna.  David has been banding migrants on Appledore for more than 30 years and continues to spend about four weeks on the island each year. In 1990, Sara (Robertson) Morris expanded the spring season to 3 weeks and fall banding to at least five weeks as part of her graduate work at Cornell. Sara continues to coordinate the station, which currently runs from early May to mid-June each spring and from mid-August to late-September each fall. The station often hosts students from Shoals classes, both credit and non-credit, and many groups visiting the island. 

The Appledore Island Migration Station has made numerous contributions to the study of songbird migration and stopover ecology. The data collected has been used for many studies of the use of temporary stopover sites by migrant birds that need to rest, refuel, or wait for favorable weather conditions. More than a dozen publications and more than 40 scientific presentations have resulted from the banding station data. The station also has been part of four graduate degrees: Sara Morris (MS and PhD, Cornell), Rebecca Suomala (MS, UNH), and Kristen Covino (MS, University of Maine). 

The banding station has had an amazing group of longtime volunteers including banders (David Holmes, Sara Morris, Mary Wright, Mac McKenna, John Munier, Becky Suomala, Anthony Hill, and Kristen Covino), band-aides (too numerous to name), and even a long-time recorder (Rozzie Holt, who never took a bird out of a net, but was a vital part of the station for almost two decades). Thank you to all who have contributed to the station over the years, including all the SML staff who have helped both directly and indirectly.  We couldn’t have done it without lots of support.

Each year, thousands of songbirds stop on Appledore Island during migration. The Appledore Island Migration Banding Station studies these migrants during both spring and fall migration. The primary purpose of the station is to study the migration and stopover ecology of Nearctic-Neotropical migrants. The data collected at the station has lead to numerous ornithological papers on migration and stopover ecology published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at ornithological conferences and meetings. 

The Appledore Island Migration Banding Station began operating in the 1970's. Intense fall migration monitoring has occurred annually since the early 1980's, and intense monitoring of spring migration began in 1990. The station operates daily during migration from before sunrise until sunset, weather permitting. Over 80,000 birds of 131 species have been banded at the station since 1981. Additional station statistics include the single largest day of banding of 585 birds on May 28, 2005, and a total of more than 12,000 Common Yellowthroats banded, our most common bird.

One advantage of banding is the individual recognition of birds, regardless of where they are re-encountered. A number of birds banded on Appledore have been encountered elsewhere, including Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. Our most exciting re-encounter was a Northern Waterthrush that was banded on Appledore on August 23, 1992, and was captured (and released) by a bird bander in Henri Pittier National Park, Venezuela on October 22, 1994. We have also seen or captured birds that were banded by other banders from Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ontario, and Newfoundland.

The Banding Station is operated by licensed bird banders assisted by numerous "band-aides." Band-aides help with recording data, opening and closing the mist nets, and handling birds. Each year we train new band-aides in both formal and informal settings. If you are interested in learning more about assisting at the station, please contact Dr. Sara Morris at

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