The Appalachian Mountain Range and the Blue Ridge Mountains serve as geographic landmarks for many neotropical songbirds as they migrate from breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada to their winter habitat in Central and South America.
Long-distance migrants need stopover habitat such as the forests and fields at Big Bald Mountain to rest and refuel before continuing their hazardous journey south. During September and October, volunteers of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research operate mist nets at Big Bald Banding Station to trap migrant neotropical bird species.
Each autumn, several thousand birds are fitted with a U.S. Bird Banding Lab metal leg band, measured, assessed for health condition and then are released unharmed. Data collected from each banded bird are submitted to the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory and the US forest Service. These data serve as tools to monitor bird community health and the sustaining habitat the birds depend upon as a vital resource for their survival.