The Cape Florida Banding Station (CFBS) is located in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (BBCFSP) at the southern tip of Key Biscayne, a developed barrier island just off the coast of Miami. Many of the neotropical migrants that breed in eastern Canada, the northeastern United States and the mid-Atlantic region use the Atlantic Flyway in fall to reach their winter habitats in the Caribbean Islands and northern South America. Migrant passerines following the eastern Florida coastline southward often funnel through Key Biscayne and land in BBCFSP, a natural oasis in heavily-developed Miami-Dade County. Here, the birds stop to rest, refuel and sometimes find refuge from bad weather before continuing southward. The restored native vegetation provides ample food such as insects and fruit that are essential to build up the fat deposits that fuel the birds on their over-water flights.
Twenty-two mist nets are set up in an area covering approximately ten acres located discreetly within a restored hardwood hammock in BBCFSP. Mist nets are operated from mid-August through the first week of November and opened daily from just before sunrise to early afternoon, weather permitting. CFBS was established in 2002 to investigate use of the restored hardwood hammocks by neotropical migrants. As the only long-term banding station in South Florida, it fills a gap in migration monitoring along the entire Eastern seaboard. CFBS offers a unique study opportunity for the utilization by migrant birds of restored native sub-tropical vegetation, as well as the challenges faced by birds along their migration routes.
The delicate mist nets temporarily trap migrating passerines passing through the banding area and volunteers gently extract the captured birds and take them to the banding tent. There, the birds are quickly processed by a master bander and released unharmed. Data on species, sex, age and overall health are collected, using standardized methods. One of the most important measurements is of the fat load that individual birds carry. Fat is the fuel burned in the long migration and birds need to use “stopover” habitats along the way for refueling and rest. Captured birds are fitted with a USFWS aluminum leg band marked with a unique set of numbers. After a few minutes’ assessment in a gentle and humane manner, the birds are carefully released to continue their migratory journey. Some individuals stay in the park for a few days to restore their fat reserves before the next long leg of their flight. Data collected are submitted to the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory for inclusion in the national database.