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Wildlife scientists in western Massachusetts get help from the public to study songbirds

Members of the public joined wildlife scientists last week in western Massachusetts as they caught birds and studied them. The program is part of a nationwide effort to gather information on bird populations.

In a small clearing at the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley on Friday, Suu Zhou measured a wing of a catbird in her hand. She recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in biology.

Randy Dettmers, who's a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stood next to Zhou and offered guidance as she made observations of the bird, which another Fish and Wildlife staff member recorded.

The birds also get bands on their legs — if they don't have one already.

"It's kind of like an ID bracelet," Dettmers said. "If we catch that bird again in the future, over the years, we can get a sense of how long those birds live and what their rate of survival is from year to year."

Dettmers said a lot of migratory species are in decline right now.

"[The tracking effort] helps us pinpoint whether there are issues here on the breeding grounds that are really kind of driving some of those population declines or is it more about what's happening other parts of the year when they're not here," he said. "That helps inform us as to whether we should be trying to put more effort into conservation actions here in the United States or is it something in Central or South America that we should be working [on]."

Dettmers said the public is invited to join scientists at the refuge again on August 5.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.

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