What is the Klamath Bird Observatory, and why is it found in Ashland, clear across the mountains from the Klamath Basin, and then some?

A Common Yellow Throat is anything but common, but catching one to be tagged and inspected by ornithologist is a rare treat at Ashland's Klamath Bird Observatory. ROY MUSITELLI PHOTO/4-7-03

Klamath Bird Observatory Executive Director John Alexander says the nonprofit field research outfit took its name not from a county but from an entire bioregion — ours.

"The Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion is noted for biodiversity," he says. "Both plants and generally, including birds."

The KBO monitors bird populations within the region.

"Birds respond quickly to habitat change, so they tell us a lot about what's going on in our ecosystem," Alexander says.

The KBO maintains 17 bird-banding stations in Northern California and Southern Oregon and provides data to scientists, land managers and the public.

Perhaps its most visible station is at North Mountain Park in Ashland.

"We do have a field station in the Klamath," Alexander says. "On the west side of Upper Klamath Lake. We staff it six months a year."

Alexander was a research assistant at Southern Oregon University in Ashland when he founded the group about six years ago. It now has six staffers, an annual budget of about a half-million dollars and as many as 10 to 15 volunteers.

Alexander sometimes describes the group's work in part as "trying to keep common birds common."

It is working to tie its network of bird-monitoring stations, which is among the densest in the world, into similar efforts around North America.

KBO works with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Southern Oregon University, the National Park Service, area schools, landowners and others, collecting and providing data. It works with Jackson County schools on after-school programs about birds.

KBO's mist-netting sites are run according to an international protocol calling for nets to be put out 15 minutes after sunrise and left up for five hours. They are checked each half-hour, and any captured birds are examined (which takes about two minutes) and released. In the event of conditions that could be dangerous to birds, such as rain or high winds, the nets are taken down. Staffers release immediately any bird that acts stressed.

Studies have found that many songbird species are in serious decline in both Eastern and Western North America and elsewhere. Many are neotropical migrants that winter in Mexico, South or Central America or the Caribbean and follow the sun north to nest and raise their young. Systematic monitoring efforts are needed to measure management and observation efforts.

Getting reliable, up-close information about a tiny creature that moves swiftly through the air, often for thousands of miles, and then seeks a secluded spot to nest and raise its young is a challenge. Alexander says banding studies get information that can't be found any other way, such as the age of individual birds and their amount of body fat.

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