Bluebirds     Bird Banding      MAPS     Quail     Waterfowl     Woodcocks     Wood Ducks    

Birds and Avian Research

There are 36 documented, and probably more, species of birds breeding on our field station. At least 44% of them are neo-tropical migrants. Many use our early successional deciduous forest habitat, which according to the American Bird Conservancy is one of the 10 top endangered bird habitats.

Wildlife in the Virginia Piedmont is generally less well studied than that in the coastal plain or in the mountains. By documenting how the Piedmont resources are used by birds (year round and migrating), we can institute sound conservation practices on our field station and recommend to landowners, developers and government agencies new ways to better protect our Piedmont wildlife.


Environmental Studies has a long history with our native Bluebirds. We now have two active trails, with 39 nest boxes. Our intrepid volunteers monitor and maintain not only the nest boxes on our property, but also at the Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton. After preparing and repairing nest boxes, they walk the Bluebird trails once a week from April through August to check and monitor each box.

Local populations of Bluebirds have declined precipitously over the past several decades. The usual culprits – habitat destruction and the increase in non-native species (House Sparrows and European Starlings) has caused the numbers of Bluebirds in the Piedmont to plummet. The key to bringing back this beautiful bird is in providing suitable nesting sites. By erecting and maintaining a series of Bluebird boxes along a prescribed trail, we are providing suitable habitat for resident and migratory bluebirds. Where this is done properly, Bluebird populations are increasing (North American Bluebird Society).

Meadows and open barren areas, with neighboring treelines, provide a perfect habitat for Bluebirds. Free of pesticides, much of our land at ES is perfect for nesting Bluebirds. Our newer boxes are all constructed according to NABS specifications (North American Bluebird Society,

Bird Banding

ES participates in bird banding throughout the entire year. In the spring we participate in the nationwide Monitoring Avian Productivity Survivorship (MAPS) program. In the fall we run our own Fall Migratory Banding Program. This has two objectives: (1) To determine neo-tropical migrant use of the Piedmont's resources during fall migration and (2) to provide training and banding experience opportunities for new banders.

ES is one of only two sites in the eastern US that regularly offers songbird banding instruction. We offer classes in Beginning and Advanced Bird Banding on alternative years. See our Calendar of Events for this year's class. We have trained banders since 2003 from VA, PA, MD, NC, WVA, SC and AR. Training opportunities to learn banding are rare. Banding permits are issued only for bona-fide research projects by certified banders. Most research projects do not have the time to teach banding which requires significant one-on-one instruction, yet training is very important in an established banding station to avoid the "Catch 22" of not getting a permit renewed because of the lack of experienced banders and not getting experience for lack of a permit.

Migrant birds caught in mist nets are those actively using Piedmont resources (e.g. food, water and shelter) not just flyovers on migration routes.

The MAPS prescribed data that we take includes the birds' weight and amount of fat, that leads to information about the birds' conditions at stopover points. This can indicate the importance of certain key areas needed for successful migration.In fact, recaptures in the same season are indicative of significant food resource refueling points. Recaptures from season to season are indicative that stopovers are the deliberate use of reliable resources, not chance events.

MAPS staff and volunteers also participate in many other banding projects such as waterfowl, owls, purple martins and birds of Jamaica.

MAPS Monitoring Avian Productivity Survivorship

MAPS is run by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) to assess and monitor vital health information and population dynamics of over 150 species of North American land birds. While there are over 500 monitoring stations across the country, there are only three active ones in the Piedmont, and ours is the only one in Fauquier County -- manned by highly trailed volunteers. Joining MAPS is a 10-year commitment, ultimately providing invaluable data such as:

  • MAPS - correlates species to the type(s) of habitats they use for reproduction
  • Documents use of the field station by neo-tropical migrants that depend on Northern US locations for reproduction during the summer.
  • Documents impact of habitat changes (development, fragmentation, climate change etc ) on these species.

All of this provides critical conservation information and helps to manage population information. ES is an active participant in this program, conducting MAPS banding each year. If you are interested in visiting our banding station, please give Dr. Wood a call at 540-349-3331.


According to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, populations of Bobwhite Quail have experienced severe long-term declines in Virginia over the past 50 years. Bobwhite quail are an indicator species of early successional habitat and from 1966-2007 alone, there was a 4.2% annual population decline due primarily to habitat loss. This decline has led to concerns about the ecological, economic and recreational impact across the state.

At ES, we have restored land with suitable habitat for the Bobwhite Quail. Our management plan includes prescribed fire and mowing to maintain fields in early successional growth to provide food, nest cover, and brood rearing habitat.

Our management plan includes prescribed fire and mowing to maintain fields in early successional growth to provide food, nest cover, and brood rearing habitat.


Our two ponds provide a year-round home to resident Trumpeter Swans as well as Canada Geese. During the winter months our facilities provide an excellent over-wintering area for migratory waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway. At any given time, you might see Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, American Widgeon, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallard Ducks, Black Ducks, Common Pintail Ducks, Wood Ducks, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Gadwall, Canvasback, Redheads, Green Winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Common Loons, Double Crested Cormorants, and Pied-billed Grebe on our ponds. Rare sightings include Eurasian Wigeon, Ross’s Goose, Snow Goose.


Many people are unaware of the presence of the relatively common American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), because not only is it extremely secretive it is mostly active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). At ES we have a healthy population of Woodcocks, and each year in February or March, we host an event to educate the public about this shy bird. Hiking to one of our upper fields right before sunset, we are on the look-out for the American Woodcock’s delightful aerobatic courtship display, watching them soar in the gathering twilight. The display period lasts about a half an hour and ends as suddenly as it begins. Check our Calendar of Events for the next Woodcock Walk.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks are considered to be the most colorful and beautiful waterfowl species that inhabit the ponds of the Piedmont. The scientific name is Axis sponsa and this translates into "waterbird in a bridal dress". Our goal is to increase the reproduction of these ducks on the field station. Wood Ducks have 2 broods a year of 10-15 eggs.

Wood Ducks nest in natural tree cavities and they will readily use artificial nest boxes. So we are restoring old boxes and establishing new nesting boxes at ES and surrounding properties within the flyway. ES is actively monitoring productivity and survivability.

Wood Duck populations have declined dramatically in the early 1900's due to habitat destruction and lack of regulations on hunting these ducks. Their populations have now recovered significantly due to active management techniques - a true success story!

Copyright © 2016 Environmental Studies on the Piedmont, 6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, Virginia 20187-7106