MESMERIZING A GOLDFINCH
by Sally Blanchard
Many years ago when I lived in the midwest I would help out in a group that did bird banding. This group employed two methods of 'capturing' the birds. They had a large circular feeding station that had a top that they could slowly lower on the tray to catch whatever birds were in it so that they could band them. There were also two mist nets that were attached to trees on the approach to the feeding stations. The nets were only up when people were actively banding birds. Bird banding is one of the major ways that ornithologists can track the populations of bird species and their migration patterns. It is always done as gently as possible. The birds that we caught were usually the birds that commonly came to feeders in that area. These included chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinch, sparrows, house finches, pine siskin, cardinals, titmice, and grosbeaks. We would also find an occasional wren, bluebird, mockingbird, warbler, vireo, or other birds that were not really seed eaters in the nets. I was often the person who got to remove them from the net or out of the feeder trap and held them while another person put the band on them. I was doing my bird sculptures back then and appreciated the opportunity to get such an up-close and personal look at these beautiful birds. It was not unusual to catch a bird that was already banded and we wrote down their band numbers so that particular bird could be tracked.But one day, we had an unusual experience. I discovered that if I gently put my finger on a bird's forehead when I was holding it and just slightly pushed down, the bird would stop struggling and relax in my hand. It was much easier to band them if they were relaxed. The less they struggled, the less chance their was of hurting them when the band was applied. We had banded one little goldfinch and then let him go. The unusual experience was that he allowed himself to be captured at least 5 or 6 times that morning and each time I would hold him and put very slight pressure on his forehead. We would realize he was the same goldfinch and let him go and within minutes he was back waiting for us to catch him on the feeding station. Year later, when I started working with parrots, I decided to try the same technique to see if putting slight pressure on their foreheads would calm them when I was working with them. It usually did.