Banding Young Raptors

A question came up in the previous entry about banding young raptors, do we worry about being bit and do we band the adults (and if so, how do you get the adults)?

Let's talk about handling raptors: If you have ever noticed from my fall hawk banding photos, we always are holding the hawks and falcons by the feet. It's the same with the young osprey, note Reier in the above photo. It looks like he is cuddling the bird, but he's keeping the feet safely away from his body and since the bird is pressed to his body, that prevents it from flapping around.

We're not really worried about the the hooked beak. The feet on raptors are the business end of the bird--their powerful toes are what separates them from other predatory birds--they grab and kill with their toes. So, when a raptor (eagle, hawk, owl, falcon, kite) feel threatened, their instinct is to always defend or attach with their toes and sharp talons. The beak is a last resort, it's too close to their eyes, and eyes are so crucial to their hunting ability that they don't want to risk putting them near danger.

In the last few years, researchers have also been taking blood samples from the birds. This could be useful for future DNA studies--especially if the populations fall low again and a reintroduction is necessary. Again, in the above photo, note how Amber is holding the young osprey's feet, and has her other hand over the bird's chest to hold it in place while mark takes its blood. Osprey are about five weeks old when we band them, they have learned to stand up and walk a little, but their wing muscles are weak. They also haven't figured out quite what their feet are for. As we are holding them, sometimes they will weakly and slowly make grabs with their toes, but they aren't nearly as swift and as strong as the adults.

Even when its time to put the bands on the legs, one person needs to hold the large chick while another places the band on the legs. Above, Amber holds the bird and feet steady as Mark places the band on the young osprey. Already, osprey banding is a two person job. However, that's just putting the bands on--getting the chicks out of the nest is another matter altogether. You either need...

...a cherry picker to donate their time and truck to go up and retrieve the chicks and put them back. Or you will need...

...a professional tree climber to donate their time and skills to go up and retrieve the chicks. It's a group effort to band osprey--at least two to three people are needed. Note that the climber in the above photo is also having to climb past a slick metal raccoon baffle to to get to the top.

As to the adults, they don't band them anymore in Minnesota. They used to do that when they first started the reintroduction program in the Twin Cities, but I've never observed it. To my understanding, it's not easy. It's not like other raptors where you can put out a bait pigeon and some mist nests--osprey only eat fresh (live) fish. From what I understand, they would take one of the education eagles from The Raptor Center and perch it out near the osprey nest. The adult osprey would fly in to chase off the eagle and either get tangled in nets surrounding the eagle, or some other type of trap. I remember a few times that adult osprey were brought in to TRC from banding because after they trapped it, they found fish hooks in their talons and were able to remove them and return the adults to the nest that day.

And for those curious, no education eagles or wild osprey were hurt or got hold of each other during the banding process.

Now, on to get check the the doin's a transpirin' out at the Kitty hive.