Smithsonian National Zoo’s New Bird House Highlights Migratory Birds’ Incredible Journeys

Ruddy ducks in the Prairie Pothole Aviary.
Ruddy ducks in the Prairie Pothole Aviary. / Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
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A biologist holds a female northern cardinal and measures its wing.
A Migratory Bird Center biologist measures a female northern cardinal's wing before attaching a colored band to its leg. / Kat Long

Off the Bird House’s foyer, a stop at the bird banding station reveals how researchers can track migratory birds on their long journeys. Smithsonian scientists gently capture wild songbirds in mist nets, then weigh, measure, and attach tiny color-coded bands to their legs before releasing them—with the hope that the birds will return to the same area in the following year. Visitors can inspect the miniscule transmitters that help scientists track birds in real time, or learn how to identify migratory birds in their neighborhoods. They’ll likely be inspired to help save the tough little voyagers.

The takeaway for visitors is to “live bird-friendly—keep your cat indoors, drink bird-friendly coffee, plant native plants, pick up trash on the beach, [and] don’t use pesticides,” Hallager says. “These are all easy things that people can do. And the Bird House gets all of those messages across in many different ways.”