Muscatatuck hosts 20th annual migratory bird festival

A hammer clutched in his fist, Chase Reasoner smacked nails into small sections of wood.

With the help of his father, Josh, it wasn’t long before the small pieces of wood added up to a new birdhouse.

Chase, 4, and his brother, Wyatt, 6, seemed unsure where they would place their new homemade birdhouses.

The Seymour family was one of many to take part in the 20th annual Wings Over Muscatatuck event Saturday at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge in Seymour.

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The event celebrates migratory birds as they move from the south to nesting areas in the northern part of the country and in Canada.

“There are more different kinds of birds around here this week than in any other time of the year,” said Donna Stanley, the refuge’s park ranger. “Some do nest in Indiana, but a lot go farther north. A lot of birds are stopping in to refuel or rest for a while before they continue their migration.”

About 300 different species of birds have been spotted at the refuge, Stanley said.

“Right now, there’s probably 125 species or 150 just because of the migration,” she said.

Warblers are a popular bird coming through the area, Stanley said. A warbler is a tiny songbird that has a variety of colors, but mainly is yellow and black with a greenish tint.

The Reasoners took part in the event, which featured a number of educational activities for families, including guided bird trips, birdhouse building, bird nest building, demonstrations of bird banding by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, live bird demonstrations and more.

“We’ve built birdhouses, went inside the visitors center, watched them band birds, shot bow and arrows at the children’s activities and then we’re going to the cakewalk,” Reasoner said.

The three watched Indiana DNR officials band birds that were caught outside the birding area at the refuge visitor center.

“That was neat,” Reasoner said. “I like teaching them that kind of stuff and what they’re doing with the birds.”

Indiana DNR employees caught the birds and placed tiny bracelets around them and recorded them for studying purposes. Age, sex, travel, tendencies and bird populations are just some of the information officials can learn from the bands.

“They learn a lot about where birds go and how long they live,” Stanley said. “They learn about trends in bird populations and where they go.”

The effort to support birds is continuous at Muscatatuck, Stanley said.

“Our mission is to provide a habitat for migratory birds,” she said.

Staff members work throughout the year to manage the land, move water from one area to another, conduct prescribed burning and plant grasslands.

Areas that have a lot of thick brush will be burned and managed by refuge staff. After the burning, the area is provided with more grassland and provides good nesting areas and food sources.

One event was a demonstration of raptors by Leslie Grow of Hardy Lake in Scott County.

Participants had the opportunity to learn about owls and raptors, or predatory birds.

During the raptors portion, Grow showed various raptors and spoke with the audience about each.

The climax of the demonstration was when Grow took out a mature bald eagle.

The bird was rescued, and Grow said she and others who care for the bird believe it was hit by a train when it was young.

“He has never flown, and you can tell where he was injured on his wing where the feathers don’t look as nice,” she said, pointing to the bird’s left wing. Follicles on the wing did not grow feathers properly after the injury, she said.

Grow shared information with attendees about bald eagles, like how they used to be on the endangered list.

Bald eagles were introduced in Indiana as an effort to remove them from the list, and eagles were released on Monroe Reservoir in the 1980s. Now, the state has an estimated 500 to 750 bald eagles, Grow said.

One fact many may not know about the nation’s official bird and animal and appears on the national seal is its call.

“The bald eagle does not have that high-pitch, majestic call many are familiar with from television,” Grow told the crowd, adding that call belongs to a red tailed hawk, another bird of prey.

The eagle makes a grunting noise and cackles.

“I think it kind of sounds like a turkey,” Grow said.

Grow said eagle nests can weigh a couple of tons and can grow to the size of a vehicle. That’s to hold the male and female birds, which weigh about 8½ pounds, and their young. Females lay between one and three eggs.

“By the time they’re 3 months old, they’re as big as the parents,” she said. “So the nests have to hold a lot of weight.”

Bald eagles can live between 20 and 25 years in the wild and nearly 50 in captivity, Grow said.

Stanley said the event is fun for refuge staff, as they get to interact with the public and partner agencies.

“It’s so much fun because we have so much volunteer involvement,” Stanley said.

The refuge uses about 30 volunteers between all of the booths and exhibits. They also use partner agencies to help with demonstrations and information booths.

“It’s a wonderful educational opportunity,” she said.

Gaining knowledge of birds does not stop after Wings Over Muscatatuck, Stanley said. The refuge offers numerous opportunities to learn about birds and birding.

The visitor center has a bird viewing area, and staff members conduct bird walks at 8 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month, where refuge staff and volunteers guide participants as they look for birds.

“Birding is fun, and we have plenty of ways for people to increase their knowledge,” Stanley said.

With two new homemade birdhouses, maybe the Reasoners are the next generation of birders that will soon take flight.