Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Talking about Banding

Today, Tyke (the Great Horned Owl) and I, visited Mrs. Mehlsen's class of grade 4 students, at McClurg school. We talked about owls in general, and the different kinds you can find around Regina during different parts of the year.

We talked about Great Horned Owls, Short-eared Owls, Burrowing Owls, Snowy Owls, and of course Northern Saw-whet Owls.
What a great group of kids! There were many great questions and they were attentive for the entire presentation.
Tyke and I had a great time!!
If you know of a class or group that would like to have a presentation about raptors (hawks, owls, falcons or eagles) and/or bird banding just email me!
If you are interested in meeting Tyke, we will be giving a presentation at the Central Library (downtown) on Tuesday November 20th at 7:00pm.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Birds are Individuals

One of the neatest things I learned from banding is that each bird is an individual, and given a certain situation each bird will respond differently. For instance, some Swainson's Hawks will try to take the skin off your head before you get anywhere their nest, where as others will leave the area as soon as they notice you and you won't see them again!

Having handled over 200 Northern Saw-whet Owls now, you can definetly see that each bird is an individual just in their look. Take a look for yourself.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Banding Northern Saw-whet Owls

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is the smallest owl we have here in Saskatchewan, and arguably the cutest. This owl breeds in the parkland and boreal forests of the province, and during the fall migrates south. They move south in fairly large numbers, but ask any birder, and they likely have only seen a Saw-whet once or twice in their life, if that. This is because these birds are strictly nocturnal and don't become active until the sun has set.

But ask any Saskatchewan owl bander and Saw-whets are one of the most common owls in Saskatchewan based on numbers banded each year. Until a few years ago, Saw-whets have received virtually no attention here in Saskatchewan. That was until a couple of sharp SK banders decided to bring Saw-whet banding to the province.

This fall there are five different stations in Saskatchewan: 1 east of Saskatoon, 1 at Matador, 1 at the north end of Last Mountain Lake, 1 near Prince Albert, and my station at Edenwold (35 min NE of Regina). This fairly geographically spaced group allows the opportunity to study movements of Saw-whets as they migrate, and that is just what we are doing.

In general, Saw-whet migration runs from the third week of September to the end of October. During this time the peak appears to be around the second week of October. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the migration, last year, the five station in Sask caught and banded over 500 Saw-whets during this period.

Once the birds are in the hand we record a bunch of data.

We record wing chord.

Culmen length.

Tail length.

And mass.

We also record age and sex of each owl, and of course the birds are banded.

More about Saw-whets later.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What do to if you find a banded bird!!!

Firstly, reporting bands is the most important thing you can do if you find a banded bird. If no one reported banded birds then there would be no point in carrying out these projects!!!
So if you encounter a bird, dead or alive, that is banded please take down this information.
1. Record the exact number on the band (If the bird is dead, you can take the bird to the museum if it is in good condition.).
2. Record any other colour bands, and their exact combination (ex. blue over black bottom left leg.).
3. Record the date you encountered the bird.
4. Record the exact location of the bird.
5. Record the species, age, or sex (if you can tell).
6. Record the condition of the bird when you found it (alive, dead, injured, etc).
7. If it is dead, determine the cause of death, if you can.
Once you have all this information, or as much as you can gather, the next step is to submit it.

Its easy!
Either call 1 -800-327-2263 (1-800-327-BAND) or go to this website -

All banding data must be submitted to CWS and USFWS as they are the central system for bird banding. Once CWS has received the data, they will pass it along to the appropriate bander.

If you find a banded bird make sure you send in the data!!
The Bird Banders Thank You!!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Turkey Vulture Tagging

Within the last 30 years Turkey Vultures have been become increasingly common here in Saskatchewan. Normally this species nests in natural caves. You can imagine how many natural caves there are in the prairies.... Today, Turkey Vultures are learning and adapting to fit into the modern day prairie ecosystem. Instead of only using natural caves they are now using old abandoned buildings to nest in, like this one.

Today there are around 100 known Turkey Vulture nest sites in the province, and the person studying these birds is Dr. Stuart Houston, along with his crew: Marten Stoffel, Brent Tarry and Mike Bloom. They are tagging the birds, or placing a cattle-ear-tag-like tag on the nestlings wing so they can track these young birds. They can clip the tag to the birds wing without drawing any blood. The tag is (hopefully) permanent and can be read with binoculars as the bird is perched or flying over.
You might ask why can't you simply band the birds just like we do other birds. Vultures are unique in that to cool themselves they defecate down their legs. Mixed with an aluminum band this creates a build up of cement like substance that can cause lesions on the leg as well as deformities. For this reason, banders are not allowed to place a band on a Turkey Vulture, and patagial tags are the best thing instead. They are flexible and do not cause any problems for the bird as far as we know.

The question behind this tagging program is to try and discover how old Turkey Vultures are when they begin to breed. There is only one record of a Turkey Vulture of known age breeding at 11 years of age, but it is speculated that the birds may start breeding around 6 or 7 years of age. But again this is the question this project is trying to answer.

It is not believed the increase of Vultures in Saskatchewan has any negative effects on the environment. The birds eat dead animals and therefore are great for cleaning up the countryside of dead rotting meat. They are fantastic scavengers!

So make sure you watch for those huge black birds as they soar over the prairies (they have nearly a 6 foot wingspan!) and of course watch for those wing tags!!!!

My first post

Its the end of summer and its been a great one at that. I was living in Moose Jaw for the summer, working at the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre. Above you can see Sanders, the Burrowing Owl that I imprinted this summer. Basically I got him at 5 days old and raised him until he was 2 months old. He came home with me every night and I was up every hour or so for the first little while! It was the coolest thing ever. Now he stays at the Centre so if you ever want to visit him just stop by the Centre sometime.

I had a busy summer with all sorts of other banding experiences. I helped release the young Burrowing Owls that were raised at the Centre. We released 24 of these cute little guys. However, with a mortality rate of 95-98% in their first year of life, we are not contributing a large number of birds into the breeding population, and this is why we do not consider ourselves a breeding facility.

One of the other fun things I got to tag along for was a trip to the Reed Lake Pelican and Cormorant colony, with Dr. Chris Somers' research team. We colour banded some American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants. I had never banded these guys before, but we caught the pelicans much like we round up geese. The birds were quite large, but not able to fly quite yet. It was amazing to be out on the island, but man did it stink!!!

These two trips were just two of the fun things I got to be part of this summer. There is more to follow, including my own Ferruginous Hawk banding, Great Horned Owls, and also some Turkey Vulture tagging that I got to see.