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Safety Is for the Birds


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Mist netting is the most common method scientists use to capture birds for research, yet until recently there had been no study of the risks these nets pose to birds. Good news: The first large-scale study of bird netting found minimal risk—injury and mortality occurred in only a fraction of one percent of well over a half-million captures.

Researchers led by ESPM graduate student Erica Spotswood used a dataset of more than 345,000 records from across the United States and Canada to assess the risk factors that could increase rates of injury or mortality, including bird size, age, frequency of capture, and the role of predators. The data spanned 20 years of research and 188 species of birds.

The results revealed that birds are rarely injured or killed by mist nets. Of 620,997 captures, incidents of injury amounted to 0.59 percent, while only 0.23 per cent of captures resulted in mortality.

Spotswood discovered the lack of mist net research when she was denied a research permit by officials in French Polynesia, who cited safety concerns. She found that there was no comprehensive study quantifying the frequency of mist net-related bird injuries.

"What began as an inquiry for a permit application ended up evolving into something we feel will be of value to the scientific community," she said.

The study was published online in July 2011 by Methods in Ecology and Evolution.


-Adapted from a story published by Wiley-Blackwell


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