Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reporting banded birds

I thought this would be a good time to post about reporting banded birds.
It's really quite simple.

(Young Burrowing Owl chick)

If you find a banded bird you should record the following data:

1) The date you found the bird
2) The band number
3) If you know it, the species
4) The location you found it, as specifically as possible
5) If the bird is dead, how you think it died (ie beside road - hit by a car, below powerpole - electrocuted)

Once you get home you can go to this webpage and report the details here.

This website is regularly being update - just recently they have made it possible for the band finder to input the exact GPS location of where you recovered the bird (in any format UTM, or lat long (decimals degrees, deg min sec)) so if you have a GPS record the location.

(You can also record colour bands to the webpage or phone number. This is a Ferruginous Hawk chick with a blue band along with its aluminum band)

You can also call in the band information by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

(This Burrowing Owl was found just east of Regina near Monica Slough. It has a colour band on its left leg. 83 over M - red band, white letters. It was banded near Milestone the year before it was seen here. You might also notice it has a syringe infront of it... we may have found the reason why burrowing owls are declining so quickly...)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saw-whets done for another year!

I can't believe how quickly time flies when you are having fun! We have already completed the third season of saw-whet banding at Edenwold SK! Once all the birds were tallied we captured 157 at my Edenwold site. Kristen, 5 km SE of my site capture 74 owls and Adam at Craven captured 16 owls! I think it is absolutely astounding how many of these small little owls move through the Regina-Edenwold area and no one notices! There has not been a single report of a Saw-whet from anywhere around Regina yet this fall or winter.

We did capture a few birds that were already banded this year at my site. Two of these were banded at the North end of Last Mountain Lake by Mr. Ross Dickson. Another bird was banded by Mr. Dan Zazelenchuk near Kyle, SK. All three of these were banded this year and moved directly to my station. I also captured a bird that was banded at my station in 2007, 3 days less exactly a year.
Kristen did not capture any birds that were banded at more distant stations then mine, but she did capture a few of my birds. Three of these were banded this year and recaptured in her net a few days later. But one of these was another bird from my station, banded in 2007.
It was a good year altogether! Now only 309 days until we start again!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A surprise visitor!

On 13 October 2008, Kristen and I were very surprised to find the bird below in our nets... a Boreal Owl!! This owl is normally found much further north in the boreal forest and we never imagined we would catch one of these at Edenwold! We were very excited.
Boreal owls are slightly larger than Northern Saw-whet Owls, as you can see by the photo, but interestingly this bird weighed less than a few of the larger saw-whets we have caught this year! Boreal owls mass can range from 90-200 g (this one was 109g) while saw-whets range between 75 to 120 g (that I have caught).
Based on measurement and the lack of a moult limit we think this was a young male. We are not sure why he was down near Edenwold at this time of year but were very pleased we were able to see this guy. This was the first Boreal Owl I had ever seen!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Northern Saw-whet Owls in Edenwold

This fall we began our third season of capturing saw-whet owls near Edenwold. We began this year on Sept 22 and have been banding every night with good weather.
We are attempting to capture these small owls as they are migrating through the area. We arrive at the farm we are banding at around dusk and open the nets and start our caller. The birds are attracted to the call we broadcast and come into see what is going on. The birds then fly around and get caught in the net. We usually keep the nets open and audiolure calling until about midnight.

To date we have captured 132 owls this fall. This is down from the last two years, which is likely due to the fact that we missed 7 days straight of banding during peak migration time.
The highest number of owls I caught this fall in one evening was 20 owls. The lowest was 0.

(Photo: Size 4 short bands specifically for saw-whets)

This year Kristen, my girlfriend, has been banding at another site ~5 km SE of my site. She has been banding for about half the time that I have spent at Edenwold this fall. So far she has captured 57 owls this fall, which demonstrates that a lot of owls are moving through this area!!
More results to come!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Colour-banded Cooper's Hawks

One of my favourite projects during July is working with Cooper's Hawks.

These small secretive hawks are not often seen by many people as they sit silently high in trees and watch you walk right by.

Cooper's Hawks are a bird eating raptor, eating birds like pigeons, robins, and sparrows. Adults have blue-gray backs and heads, with a white belly with orangy markings along their breast. They also have long thin bright yellow legs. COHA are cool because they exhibit a high degree of reverse sexual dimorphism. This means that female Cooper's Hawks are usually much larger than the males.

Another species that is very similar to the Cooper's Hawk is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. COHA are larger than SSHA, but small male COHA and larger female SSHA can be fairly close in size. One diagnostic feature if you get a good look at a sitting birds (which rarely happens) is COHA have a distinct grey cap that contrasts sharply with their back. The top of the head of a SSHA is the same colour as its back, so it does not contrast. In the hand, this difference is very evident.

My project with COHA is simple. I trap the adults and band them with special colour bands so that I can identify individuals again without having to recapture the bird. I trap them at their nest so we can learn how if adults come back to the same spot to raise their young and for how long.
For example, seen below on the left is 3/A (her red band number), a female Cooper's Hawk, and on the right is O/K, a male Cooper's Hawk. My mom and I captured these in Wascana Park at their nest in 2006. In 2007 I saw 3/A back in the same area but could not find her nest. But in 2008 I found both 3/A and O/K at a new nest together and they succesfully raised 3 chicks. We will wait and see if they both return in 2009.

We also band the young birds in the nest and observe the nestlings after they fledge (leave the nest). Again we can identify birds as individuals because of the red band so we can tell which chicks stick around the nest after they can fly and for how long.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Installing FEHA nesting platforms

This year, while banding Ferruginous Hawks (FEHA) around Morse and Herbert we found a few large nests that had been completely blown out of the tree and were destroyed, like the one shown below. We usually found dead chicks littered on the ground around the nest at the same time.

In an effort to create some permanent, reliable nesting locations for FEHA, we decided to install 7 artificial nesting platforms for this species to use - and that's just what we did. Artificial nesting platforms have been used extensively in the Bitterlake PFRA pasture and with great success. Many the platforms we are monitoring were succesful this year.

With the help of Randy, Lori, and Mike from Hebert/Morse, and Lorne Scott and Kristen from Indian Head and Regina, we were able to get all 7 platforms installed in one day.

We assembled the platform part of the nest earlier in Lorne Scott's workshop. On the day we had an auger rented and had acquired 7 large poles from Swift Current. When all was ready we had a full convoy of 2 trucks and 1 van packed to the brim.

We had already made contact with the landowners and proceeded to the designated locations.
While a few of us augered the hole for the pole, others connected the platform to the pole.

Then we hoisted the platform up and into the newly dug hole. The digging of the hole varied from our first hole (in sand) which took 5 minutes to dig through, versus our second hole of the day (in clay) which took closer to 45 minutes. After the first platform was installed we thought this would take no time at all.... until we started the second pole.

Once the platform was up we added lots of sticks, grass and of course, cow manure. We wanted the platform to appear as though a hawk had already nested here before. Why cow manure you ask? Well, we are not really sure why the birds do this, but FEHA regularly place pieces of dried cow manure in their nest. So again, to make it appear as though FEHA's had used this nest in the past we added the manure!

Just in case you are wondering, the Danger sign was brought for aesthetic purposes.

We placed 4 of the nests in areas where this years nest had been destroyed and placed a few nests in spots that are over run with Richardson's Ground-squirrels and no trees or nests are present.
We anxiously await the return of the hawks next year to see how many platforms are used.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 6 Pack Nest

In June 2007, Lorne Scott and I went to Morse to band young American Kestrels in nestboxes that local school students had put up in previous years. Here we met the amazing Lori Wilson and Randy McCulloch. After banding the kestrels, I was mentioning to Lori and Randy about how I had been banding Ferruginous Hawks the previous week. The two locals quickly told me about three nests they knew of very close by that they would be pleased to take us to to band.

We made it to the first nest and banded the young with no problems. The nest was in a low (only ~6 feet) Hawthorn shrub. After this nest, Randy had to get home so Lori, Lorne and I continued on our way.

The next nest was the soon to be infamous nest - the Six Pack nest. The tree was dead, but sturdy enough to climb, I felt. From the road (0.5 mi back) we were not 100% confident if this was a FEHA nest or a Red-tailed Hawk nest, since we hadn't seen any adults yet. I decided to take both strings of bands so we could band it either way. I made it up the nest (8.8m above ground) and found FEHA chicks in the nest. So to make less clutter in my pouch I dropped the RTHA bands down. Oops! I dropped the FEHA string!! So I had to hoist up the FEHA bands with the owlovator and began banding the young. At first I thought I was looking at a nest of 5 chicks, but soon realized there was actually a sixth birds sitting behind the fifth chick!
I couldn't believe my eyes!! I had never seen six chicks in a nest before! Of course we didn't bring any cameras out to the nest so poor Lorne and Lori had to walk all the way back to the van and get the camera so we could document this nest. I wasn't sure if this was a big deal but didn't want to miss a photo opportunity like this.
Well it turns out we couldn't find any other published accounts of a nest with six FEHA chicks! This was a first!!

Later in July we returned to the nest and were very pleased to see six fledged chicks take off, one at a time, from the bank of the slough, seen below. We could see they were juveniles and we could see all their bands! They had all survived. In the photo below the nest is on the right side of the tree clump.
I later wrote up this account and it was published in the Journal of Raptor Research 42:152-153.
Contact me if you would like to read a copy of the published account.

Well, understandably we were quite excited to get back to the six-pack nest this year (2008) and see how many chicks were present.

We met up with the local landowner and his family and made our way over to the nest.
Up the old dead tree I went, (I don't think I want to climb this next year), and we found four good healthy chicks.

We were slightly dissapointed about finding only 4 chicks, but were pleased the nest had still produced this many chicks. It's amazing to think this nest has produced 10 chicks in the last two years!!

I will keep you updated to the story of the six-pack nest for years to come!

Ferruginous Hawks -2008

The Ferruginous Hawk (FEHA) is North America's largest hawk and definetly my favorite bird to study!!
This year FEHA's had an exceptional reproductive year, producing roughly 3.01 chicks per nest. When gophers are abundant (FEHA's favorite food source), which they were this year, FEHA's do very well. A family of Ferrug's have been known to take over 500 gophers in a single breeding season. When you have up to 6 chicks you have to keep all those mouths fed!

This year I banded FEHA around Maple Creek, and between Herbert and Mortlach.

This was the second year of my banding project that is looking at productivity and long-term territory use by FEHA in the Bitterlake area (NW of Maple Creek). For this trip Adam Crosby and Joseph Kotlar joined me and we had a blast.

In this very defined area we banded 77 FEHA nestlings.

One new element to this study is this year we banded the chicks with the regular aluminum bands but we also placed blue aluminum bands on the left leg 0f all the chicks. I hope to collect disperal data by banding with the blue bands - in other words, we know were the chicks grew up, how far away are they found as adults nesting? If one sees an adult with a blue band, we can tell you it came from a very small area and see how far away it is.

Lori Wilson, Randy McCulloch and Lorne Scott also help me find nests in the Herbert/Morse area and of course helped band.

In total I banded, with the help of many voluntters a total of 222 Ferruginous Hawks this year. Thanks to all the folks who help find nests, and band these great hawks.

Below is a dark phase adult FEHA we found at a nest near Piapot, SK. Both the adults at this nest were the dark phase colouration (aka - melano adult). Can you see the aluminum band on the birds right leg? (I know the photo is small but it is banded). This was the second year we found a banded melano adult at this nest, which means that this same bird was here two years in a row.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

American Kestrels

The American Kestrel is Saskatchewan's smallest falcon. It is a very flashy bird. Male kestrels have blue wings and a finely blotted chest, whereas females have dark rusty red back and wings, and a brown streaky chest.

Kestrels are neat because they raise their young in cavities - usually old woodpecker holes. This means that you can attract kestrels by putting up bird houses.

And this is exactly what I did last year. With the help of some friends, I place 9 kestrel boxes around the outskirts of the city.

Early in April I had seen activity at only 2 of the 9 nest boxes.

When I visited the boxes to band the kestrels early in May I checked all of the boxes to ensure that I did not miss a box being occupied. To my surprise I found 7 of the 9 boxes were occupied!!

When we opened the boxes we found females sitting on typically 4 or 5 eggs, a standard clutch size for this species.

All of the boxes fledged atleast 1 chick, none of the nesting attempts failed in the 9 of these boxes around the city. Two boxes that were occupied at Edenwold and Assiniboia were depredated by raccoons. If you are going to erect a kestrel box, it might be a good idea to put a predator guard below the nest to prevent raccoons from access the nest. The raccoon pulled the adult female kestrel right out of the box and killed her.

Overall, though the kestrels appeared to do quite well around Regina this year.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Great Horned Owls

It's been a while since I have last posted on here.... It's been a crazy and wild summer. Up to now I have banded 418 raptors. It's been great, but busy nonetheless.

Over the next few weeks I hope to post numerous times here to fill you in on the events of the summer.

Lets start at the beginning.
Great Horned Owls

We started banding on May 3 and finished banding owls by the end of May. We have caught a few more owls since though.

Our first weekend we spent in Herbert and Morse banding with Randy McCulloch and Lori Wilson. Joseph Kotlar accompanied us for the weekend as well. We had a good weekend, checking 29 nests and banding 47 chicks. Our little adventure that weekend even made it into the Herbert newspaper!!

During May we banded around Regina, Indian Head, Moose Jaw, Chaplin, Craven, Dilke, Carnduff, and Pense.

We found one nest of 4 chicks, but most had a regular sized brood, 2-3 chicks.

Some interesting prey items we found in owls nests included: a Virginia Rail, Northern Pocket Gophers, a Short-eared Owl, a Long-tailed Weasel, and a number of Cottontail Rabbits. One nest was jam packed with prey - 2 Eared Grebes, a Gray Partridge, and American Wigeon, and an American Coot. While another nest had remains of a Short-eared Owl, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, 2 Blue-winged Teals, and a Northern Pocket Gopher.

This year despite visiting over 65 nests I was not struck by an adult owl. Last year I was hit 3 times at different nests but this year I was not so lucky! I did have some close calls. One female trapped me up in the tree as she made repeated striking attemptings when I tried to climb down an open portion of the tree.

Our most exciting event from GHOW banding this summer would have been on May 4. Joe Kotlar was climbing and banding a nest that contained 2 nestlings. Joe was up in the nest attending to the young, while the female owl was very curious as to what he was doing. At one point she landed within 5 feet of Joe and then flew off. Then a few moments later she came back in and landed within 3 feet of Joe. So I yelled "Joe grab her!". And well.... that's exactly what Joe did. In one shot Joe, like a flash of lightning reached out and grabbed the adult owl in a perfect banders grip around her feet - completely immobalizing her dangerous set of weapons. I couldn't believe!!!

He had actually grabbed the owl! He called down "Jared I can't move, if I do I might lose her." So absolutely pumped on adrenalin I scaled the tree in a few seconds without any gear and took the bird from Joe and placed her in a nap sack, with just her legs and tail sticking out. In the dark like this, birds will calm right down and their stress level decreases (Think of the hood a falconer puts on his falcon - same idea).

Well we are all very excited with the catch. I have never caught an owl like this before, granted I have heard of it being done before by other banders. So get the bird out of the tree and go back to the truck with Lori and Randy and we get all the gear out for banding her, while Joe finishes up in the tree. After a few moments I leave Randy and Lori with the bird and go see how Joe is doing. Randy and Lori soon follow and we discuss where we are going to take our picture with the owl. Joe jumps out of the tree and we celebrate his epic grab! We turn back to the truck, when Lori says "Did an owl just fly from the truck?????"........

I had seen it out of the corner of my eye as well. We rushed back to the truck and sure enough, there lay the empy backpack. No owl. She had escaped..... I couldn't believe it! I think I cried myself to sleep that night. ;)

So the lesson learned here is, under no circumstance, leave a bird unattended!!!!!
It was a hard lesson to learn that day, but a valuable one nonetheless.

Once all the bands were tallied, 141 Great Horned Owls are wearing aluminum bands thanks to me and a number of helpful people who joined me on our adventures.

Remember, if you see a dead bird, or are handling a live bird check for a band!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nesting season has begun!

Its that time of year already! The nesting season is beginning for some species.
We headed out last weekend (March 3) and found our first nest of 2008 - it was a Common Raven nest east of Regina. It was a blistery windy day and we were surprised to find it so early.
However, I understand there is a Raven nest in Saskatoon right now with chicks almost ready to fledge (meaning they are ready to leave the nest). This means the birds started nesting in January!!! Very unusual.
This weekend we found 5 Great Horned Owl nests around Regina - so they are beggining to nest!
If you know of any Great Horned Owl nests please email me and let me know so we can include this nest in our banding project.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Passing of a good friend

It is with great sadness, I write about the passing of a good friend, my Great Horned Owl, Tyke.

Tyke passed away on December 20, 2007, from fungal pneumonia. By the time he showed any symptoms, the sickness was to far along.
He passed away at the veterinary clinic, on his own, as I knelt there beside him.

I looked after Tyke for almost two years. For those who don't know, I received him from the Humane Society on March 29, 2006. When I got him, he had hit a powerline and skinned the inside of his wing very badly. If you had sustained the same injury, go from your wrist to midway up your forearm, take off all the skin, and that's the kind of wound he had.

It took 7 intense weeks of rehabbing to get him back to health, so that the skin wound was healed. However, because of ligament damage Tyke wasn't able to fly properly, preventing him from being released.

After some fight, I was able to get a permit to keep him. His job was to help catch adult Cooper's Hawks. He was very good at his job. He patiently sat on his perch as angry Cooper's Hawks came screaming down on him.

More importantly, I think, Tyke visited and met many people and shared with them the wonder of nature. After seeing him eye to eye, most people responsed with "I've never seen an owl this close before! He's huge! Look at his eyes!"

In his short time with me, Tyke visited a number of class rooms, we presented at a Weyburn Nature Society meeting, the 2007 Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association symposium, at the Regina Public Library, and the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre's Fundraiser Dinner.

During the summer of 2006 he was incorporated into tours given at the Display Ponds in Wascana Centre, and during 2007 was on display and involved in programing at the Burrowing Owl Centre in Moose Jaw.

Tyke saw 4000 people at SBOIC alone this past summer, so I would estimate he met over 5,000 people during his time with me.

He taught me alot about owls and about himself. But I believe he taught many other people about the beautiful life that is out there.

I will miss him very much, but I know now he is free to fly where ever the wind wishes to take him.