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Protecting Birds of a Feather

Our Work to Save the Island Scrub-Jay

The only place in the world to see a living island scrub-jay is on Santa Cruz Island, California. Their limited habitat and high vulnerability to disease increase their risk of extinction. © Stephen Francis Photography

The Conservancy is working to protect island scrub-jays by vaccinating them against West Nile virus. © Kathryn Langin

In order to vaccinate the jays, we need to catch them first—with a simple wire-mesh box and a stick...and peanuts. Jays can't resist peanuts! © Kathryn Langin

Once captured, our scientists do a thorough check-up on each bird to evaluate its health. © Elizabeth Donadio

Highly sophisticated technology, such as these digital calipers, allows us to capture vital data that are automatically transmitted to and stored in a computer. © Elizabeth Donadio

After the check-up, we band the bird in order to track its progress. We start by measuring the jay's leg bone so we know what size bands to use. © Elizabeth Donadio

While preparing the bands, we give the jay a pencil "perch" to clasp. Otherwise, they try to grab objects with their feet while we handle them—which can make banding very difficult! © Elizabeth Donadio

Voila! The first of a series of bands is attached to the jay's leg. This USGS aluminum band has a unique number that helps us to track the movement of the bird. © Elizabeth Donadio

We also attach a unique combination of colored bands that allow us to identify each bird by sight and thus monitor their territory, mating status, reproductive success and survival. © Elizabeth Donadio

Success! A fully banded jay. The unique color combination of the bands reads from top to bottom, left to right, from the bird's perspective. This bird's ID is blue-green-black, aluminum-white. © Elizabeth Donadio

Scientists record the banding data of each bird in a field notebook; the data are later transferred to a computer database. © Elizabeth Donadio

Next, we collect a blood sample from each bird. This can be a tricky feat, but it is a vital step in determining the health, diet and genetic makeup of the bird. © Elizabeth Donadio

Scientists use a tiny sterile needle to collect blood from the jay's wing. Except for a momentary discomfort, the jays are not harmed by the blood-sampling process. © Elizabeth Donadio

Once the bird has been vaccinated against West Nile virus, it is released into the wild. © Kathryn Langin

To date, more than 100 birds out of an estimated total population of 2,400 have been vaccinated. © Stephen Francis Photography

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