National Aviary project tracks birds near Saltsburg ‘bird haven’ |

National Aviary project tracks birds near Saltsburg ‘bird haven’

Joe Napsha

Bob Mulvihill carefully held the small American cardinal in his hands Saturday morning in rural Indiana County. He placed a thin piece of numbered metal around one of the bird’s legs, along with red- and yellow-colored bands.

That will allow residents in that area to track the bright red bird with sharp beak.

“This allows them to track the movement of the birds and track their lifespan,” said Mulvihill, an ornithologist with the National Aviary on Pittsburgh’s North Side, said of the Neighborhood Nestwatch project at the home of Dan and Marcy Cunkelman in Conemaugh Township. Neighborhood Nestwatch is a program of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

The Cunkelmans and their neighbors can monitor the birds and submit sightings throughout the year, said Molly Toth, a spokeswoman for the National Aviary. It helps scientists gather important data about the birds’ migratory patterns and nesting behaviors, as well as their survival rates across a rural to urban gradient.

Mulvihill was among about a dozen people Saturday who were involved in a bird catching, cataloging and banding program at the Cunkelman’s four-acre property, which is about seven miles from Saltsburg.

“They will return here every spring and summer,” allowing ornithologists to understand how long they live, Mulvihill said.

The Cunkelmans have been involved in the National Aviary’s citizen science project at their home for five years, said Marcy Cunkelman, a master gardener.

They have created a safe haven in their property not far from the Conemaugh River Dam by selectively growing many native plants and pollinator plants in plots spread across their property. Those plants attract birds, bees, and butterflies.

“It’s never boring here. You are always learning and observing” the birds, Cunkelman said.

Mulvihill, who spent 30 years as an ornithologist at the Powdermill Nature Reserve near Rector, Westmoreland County, used an audio device that played bird sounds to attract the real birds to fly into black “mist nets,” where the birds would get stuck. Mulvihill and other volunteers carefully removed the birds, cataloged the type of birds they had caught and their weight, put the bands on them and released them.

The Neighborhood Nestwatch program is focused on capturing and recording eight species: song sparrows, American robins, Northern cardinals, Northern mockingbirds, Gray catbird, song sparrow, Carolina wren and Carolina chickadee.

“They have created space for many of our targeted bids,” Mulvihill said.

Of the 50 sites in Western Pennsylvania where the Neighborhood Nestwatch is conducted, “Marcy has created the gold standard” for bird havens, Toth said.

It is the farthest site from Pittsburgh that is involved in the Neighborhood Nestwatch program, Toth said.

Among those helping in the catch-and-release initiative Saturday were Kim Shawley of Slickville and her two grandchildren, Ella Blair, 6, and Xavier Blair, 11, also of Slickville.

“I’m a bird lover and do a lot of nature walks. They (grandchildren) can learn about the world around them and then keep it intact,” Shawley said. “They have a great interest in being in being junior Audubons.”

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Joe Napsha | Tribune-Review
Robert Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, holds a Northern cardinal that was caught and banded on property in Conemaugh Township, Indiana County, as part of the Neighborhood Nestwatch program conducted by the National Aviary on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.
Joe Napsha | Tribune-Review
Robert Mulvihill, National Aviary ornithologist, admires the garden for birds that Marcy Cunkelman has created on her Conemaugh Township home in Indiana County, during the Neighborhood Nestwatch program on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.
Joe Napsha | Tribune-Review
Marcy Cunkelman of Conemaugh Township, in her yard that is full of plots with native plants to attract birds, discusses her passion for bird watching during the Neighborhood Nestwatch program on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, at her home.
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.