Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More colour banded Cooper's Hawks

Cooper's Hawk banding season always comes fast and flies by! We have a fairly short window of opportunity to band the birds because they leave the nest in only 28-34 days! We like to have the young birds old enough that you can precisely sex them, but not too old that they leave the nest prematurely. 2009 proved to be our best year so far in terms of the number of Cooper's Hawks banded for this project. Due to the loss of our owl earlier this spring, after never fully recovering from his initial injuries that brought him into human care, we were forced to use a mounted Great Horned Owl.

Using this mounted owl I was amazed when we caught 13 adults at 9 nests. I think the trap failed only three times, when the birds were able to detect the net and refused to come in close enough to the trap. This surpasses all of our previous years of banding adults by far! I think our highest number of adults in one year was 6.

(Adult Cooper's Hawk banded near Roche Percee)

We also banded 21 young COHA this year as well. Some of them got colour bands, while others did not. I was actually running out of colour bands, which is why some did not get any.

We did not find anything unusual in terms of brood sizes or anything like that. None of the adults that we caught were banded.

We did have three re-sightings of birds we banded in previous years. As posted earlier 0/K returned to Wascana Centre again this year for his 4th year here. He and his still unbanded mate raised 4 young chicks, who I saw all yesterday all out of the nest. I will post more on their progress in the next couple of weeks. The female we banded near Craven last year returned for here second year since we banded her. Her leg was too big to put the colour band on her, but we were able to see her aluminum band on her left leg and are confident this is the same bird. Lastly, the female we banded down near Roche Percee last year returned for her second year since we banded her as well. We initially thought that she had been unable to attract a mate this year but turned out just to be a late nester. We did catch her mate this year though.

We banded Cooper's in Moose Jaw, near Mortlach, Regina, Craven, Estevan, Saskatoon and near Prince Albert. So make sure you watch for red colour banded Cooper's Hawks!!! And if you see any please contact me!

A special thanks to the folks who helped find COHA nests and helped us band, including Kathy Hedegard, Larry Preddy, Rocky Marchigiano, Martin Gerard, Marten Stoffel, and Harold Fisher!

(Kathy releasing a Cooper's Hawk)

Monday, July 27, 2009

A little bit different - Canada Geese?

Normally, I have raptor banding stories. Today is a little bit different.

Earlier this spring I took a job with Wascana Centre Authority in Regina. This is the organization that looks after one of the largest urban parks in North America, Wascana Park.
I am the new year round Park Naturalist at Wascana Centre.

I am involved with everything that is wildlife related. One the most enjoyable parts of my job is teaching people about the environment right in the middle of our city. Watch for the interpretive program at Wascana to take off in the next year!

But enough about that. Another part of my job is trying to manage the Canada Goose population in Wascana Centre. Canada Geese (CAGO) love the park. It is relatively predator free during the breeding season, except for a few ambitious mink and a couple of foxes. But also there is a lot of food (ie grass) and people love to feed them! This equates to a whole lot of geese nesting in the park, raising a whole heck of a lot more geese that tend to survive each year. In a more natural habitat, many of the young birds would not survive, whereas almost all of the young survive in the park.

To help mitigate the goose population and reduce the number of human/goose conflicts we move a large majority of the birds up north. This year we moved ~908 CAGO up to Cumberland House Lake, roughly 7 hours north of Regina. Because the birds are flightless at this time of year we can gather up large groups of the birds and transport them to a different location.

To learn more about how many geese return to Wascana from Cumberland House next spring we banded all 900 geese! What a job! It turned out to be a lot more work then I expected. Each goose must be age, sexed and banded. Geese, like all other waterfowl, are unlike all other birds, in terms of their sex organs. All birds have a cloaca, a hole at the end of their digestive tract that serves as an excretion point for feces and urine, but also an exit or entry point for sperm. In most birds the males cloaca simply swells to aid in depositing his sperm. In waterfowl, however, males actually have a penis, that can be popped out of the cloaca and used to pass sperm to the female.
To end this story, each goose must be turned up-side down and examined to see if it has a penis or not.... Now I will reiterate, we sexed, aged and banded over 900 geese for the round up!!!

We also have been catching and banding some of the ~200 birds that were left in Wascana after the round-up. We hope to get a better idea as to which birds have a great return rate, birds we took to Cumberland House or those left in Wascana. So far we have banded 1069 Canada Geese from Wascana Centre! But just today I still saw some birds without bands!

We use a size 8 band on the Canada Geese we have here. This is the same size as a Great Horned Owl or Great Gray Owl. The difference is though that we do not use a lock-on band like we do with raptors. This is because CAGO do not have a bill capable of removing the band, so we don't have to worry about the lock-on part. Geese legs are more narrow and long and we actually mis-shape the bands slightly to allow for a more comfortable fit.

The geese used to be banded years ago as part of the round-up, but banding ceased in 1993. Ironically, earlier this year I noticed a banded goose inside the Display Ponds (the fenced area just east of the Conexus Art Centre). I convinced a few kids who were feeding the birds to feed this particular bird and I was able to read the band number off its leg. It turns out it was banded in 1993 as a young bird, incapable of flight. That makes that bird 16 years old! Interestingly, we have not encountered that individual while banding the 1069 geese this year! Where did she go? Does she know to get out of the area for round up? Interesting stuff.

So the next time you are walking around the park and see a Canada Goose, think about the fact that that bird might just over 20 years old! Lorne Scott's oldest recovered goose he banded was 28 years old when it was found!!!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

All for one, and one for FEHA (pronounced 'FEE-HAW')

This goofy little line is something my Herbert/Morse crew came up with... well truth be told it was Randy alone who came up with it. As corny as it sounds it has stayed with us over the last year as we work toward a better understanding of Ferruginous Hawk population trends in Saskatchewan.

Whenever we need a little boost, for example finding a hawk nest blown out of a tree with dead chicks on the ground, or climbing a tree that is kind of dangerous, or drilling a hole in rock hard clay to install a FEHA nesting platform, one of us calls out "All for one, and one for FEHA!".

As we travel around Saskatchewan and meet landowners and teach them about the ecological and economic value of having these hawks around, I hope that we are slowly but surely increasing the number of folks who are 'for FEHA'.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the landowners who allow us to access their land and study these beautiful hawks. Without you this project would not be possible! Whether its simply allowing us on your land, or you showing us where the hawks are, or just coming out to see the hawks with us, we appreciate your kindness every step of the way.

I am always amazed at the generosity and warmth that comes from every person we meet from across our province. There seems to be a genuine interest and desire to look after these hawks and make sure they are here in the future. I think conserving these hawks is important not only because of the benefits they bring to landowners through their proficient gopher consumption, but also just because they are such a brilliant part of the prairie ecosystem. There is not a more breath-taking sight then an adult Ferruginous Hawk flying over at sunset, calling to the vast expanse of native prairie below. Unfortunately this is a decreasingly common sight in Saskatchewan as more native prairie is lost under the cultivator. We have to travel to the small pockets of native prairie pastures in Saskatchewan to experience this now.

Once again, I'd just like to say thanks to all the landowners and friends who aided us this summer!! We couldn't have done it without you! Thanks for taking care of these hawks!