Hawk Banding Basics

Blogger is still acting strange, so the updates will come as blogger allows them--I've been working on this post from 1pm - 4:30pm trying to upload photos--grrrrrrrrrr. I think the first post should be a little note on banding and terminology before the onslaught of adventures.

I LOVE bird banding and especially hawk banding. For a few minutes, I get a glimpse into the life of different birds that make their way into the nets. This photo above is pretty much what I think my version of heaven will be when I die--beautiful fall colors, dark storm clouds behind them, a chill in the air and a bird so close I can smell it. Either I can handle the bird or the bird can handle me, I don't care so as long as those ingredients are there.

Banding migrating raptors is different than some of the other banding that you see here like songbirds or banding young birds in the nest. Like songbird banding where nets are set up around a feeding station, migrating raptors are attracted by bait--typically in the form of non native North American species like pigeons, starlings and house sparrows. What I really like about Frank's blind is that he uses only one pigeon that is heavily protected by a leather jacket. Also, the pigeon is on a tether and gets yanked out of the way of the oncoming raptors--much the same way rabbits and hares jump straight up to avoid hawks and eagles. Frank has been banding over 37--even before they started banding at Hawk Ridge. His blind is several miles away from the Hawk Ridge station and from time to time you can find some of the HR banders hanging at Frank's to relax or drop off injured birds for us to take to The Raptor Center.

Frank sometimes has nature clubs or small school groups up to his station. It's a fabulous way for kids to watch the different hunting techniques of different types of raptors. What's amazing is that some species like sharp-shinned hawks are SO focused on the pigeon that they will come right into the net with six people milling around outside the nets (that doesn't work for eagles or red-tailed hawks). The first time I ever touched a hawk was such an unbelievable rush and really solidified my interest in birds, I think it's an incredible teaching tool. Any person that visits Frank's blind never leaves without a huge appreciation and respect for raptors and many are just plain stunned saying: "I touched a hawk!"

You also get the chance to see similar sized species up close. Can you id these two different species--no prize, just for fun.

The raptors have their wings and tails measured, get fitted with a band and then are on their way. Birds are rarely with us longer than 15 minutes. When you think about what a bird will do on an average day--this is very small part of their life. These birds will fight to the death for nesting habitat, dive and kill prey the same size they are, migrate thousands of miles--15 minutes in a banding station is child's play compared to what they really do to survive. (Don't believe me, check this and this.) I think many of them leave thinking, "I put on a show of how fierce I was around those gigantic greasy primates and I got away without being eaten. Am I bad or what!"

A few things to know about raptors--first year birds (birds hatched this year) are called passage birds. Also the marks on the breast are vertical. The above bird would be called a passage sharp-shinned hawk.

Raptors that are over a year old are haggard birds. Also, the barring on the feathers tends to be horizontal. So besides having the color on the back change from brown to blue, the chest barring go from brown to rust and the eyes go from yellow to red this bird also has horizontal barring making it a haggard sharp-shinned hawk.

Females are LARGER than males. Barb Walker is holding the same species in the above photos. These are both haggard sharp-shinned hawks--can you tell which one is the female? In accipiters, the size difference is much more obvious than in buteos. I guess it's safe to say that male sharp-shins like a female with back.

Okay, hopefully blogger can fix the photo issue and more updates are coming.