Volunteers at McGill Bird Observatory fill one or more roles, depending on previous experience, abilities, interest, and current needs.  While our top priority is the safe and consistent operation of MBO's standardized research programs, we do also attempt to provide training in relevant skills, especially to volunteers interested in long-term involvement.  The descriptions below outline what is associated with each role, and the requirements for being able to carry them out independently.

Scribe / data recorder:
The scribe plays an essential role by freeing up the bander to concentrate on handling and identifying the bird, and is responsible for ensuring that all necessary data is obtained and recorded accurately.


  • Record data in the log books, as directed by the bander

  • Look up references concerning the current bird, as directed by the bander   

  • Question bander about information that appears to be inconsistent, incorrect, or missing, before he/she releases the bird


  • Attention to detail.  The log is the record of all our activities, and it is essential that it is maintained accurately.

  • Neat handwriting.  If we can't read what is written, the data recorded are useless.

  • Willingness to ask questions.  If you are unsure about something the bander has asked you to record, don't guess - ask her/him to confirm!

Observation leader / censuser:
All volunteers are expected to observe and keep notes of birds observed during each visit.  However, experienced observers are asked to be particularly alert to recording birds in the area, and to assist in particular by conducting the daily census.


  • Conduct the one-hour census walk.

  • Assist other volunteers with identification of birds.

  • Actively look for additional birds throughout the morning, when not occupied with other activities (paying particular attention to areas where there are no nets and/or are less frequently visited).


  • Ability to identify the majority of local birds by sight and sound ("Class 1" observer, defined as able to correctly recognize >75% of species).

Net assistant:
This is the first role taken on by many volunteers, but it is an important one.  Many volunteers choose to keep this role for a long time as it allows them to observe and learn from extractors, and to enjoy the majority of the morning outside.


  • Assist extractors by providing empty bags for birds, holding bags containing birds, raising and lowering nets, and carrying items (birds, bags, etc) between the nets and the banding station.  This is a tremendous help as it allows the extractors to work much more quickly and efficiently.

  • Keep track of which bags hold birds from which nets, to ensure proper data entry once the birds are brought to the banding station.


  • Willingness to help wherever required, as determined by the bander-in-charge and/or extractors.

  • Ability to determine where and when help is needed, to take the initiative to undertake necessary tasks (e.g. getting extra bags, bringing birds to the banding station if large numbers are being extracted, etc.), and to work independently.

In terms of safety, extraction of birds is the most critical step in banding, as it is at this stage that injuries have the greatest potential to occur.  Only those who have consistently demonstrated a very high level of competence at extraction are permitted to extract on their own
Anyone interested in becoming an extractor should discuss this with the bander(s)-in charge, and read the Extraction Guidelines for further advice.


  • Carefully and efficiently extract birds from the nets.  

  • Recognize candidates for priority extraction (e.g. two birds in close proximity, aggressive or very large birds, etc).

  • Assess the condition of each bird during and after extraction, and be willing to release it away from the net if it appears to be under stress, or to send it to the banding station as a priority if it requires special attention.

  • Assist trainees with extraction, and ensure that those who are not ready to extract do not attempt to do so.


  • Patience.  Badly tangled birds can be frustrating, but allowing yourself to get irritated is unlikely to help solve the problem, and will generally only make matters worse.

  • Gentle (never jerky) touch.  Most of the birds caught at MBO are very small, and must be handled very carefully.

  • Aptitude for problem solving.  Each bird is a puzzle.  We can generally determine the basic manner in which it got caught, but the details are often unclear.  Extractors must be able to envision the steps required to release a bird.

  • Willingness to ask for help.  Even experienced extractors are sometimes puzzled by a bird, and the challenge can often be solved more quickly by having another person look at it from a different perspective.

An experienced and licensed bander must be present at all times when nets are open.  Only "class 1" birders with a very high level of comfort handling birds may qualify to be banders.  See the MBO Bander Training Guidelines for further details on qualifications and how to acquire the necessary skills.


  • Band birds, taking routine measurements (fat, weight, wing chord) and assessing age and sex for each individual.

  • Take note and/or photographs of any abnormal individuals.

  • Supervise the activities of the scribe.


  • Be in possession of a federal banding permit for passerines.

  • Ability to identify all local passerine species, and to be aware of similar species that could occur in the area as vagrants.

  • Excellent bird-handling skills to allow for the safe transfer of birds from hand to hand during the course of measurement and identification.

  • High level of familiarity with ageing and sexing of passerines, and an ability to rapidly and accurately review the classification criteria presented in key references.

As the title implies, the bander-in-charge (BIC) is responsible for all activities.  In addition to mastering all the tasks listed above, the BIC must know and adhere to the standards prescribed by the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network. 


  • Supervise all volunteers and direct them according to their abilities and current needs.

  • Determine net openings and closings as required by weather, bird volume, and abilities of the volunteers present.

  • Ensure that all daily information (weather, volunteer effort, daily estimated totals) is recorded.


  • Same as for the bander, but additionally the bander-in-charge must have a high level of familiarity with MBO itself to ensure that protocols are followed and in particular that decisions about net openings and closings are appropriate.

  • Strong leadership, organizational, and teaching skills.

2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.