Winter Raptor Research Updates From the Field – Week 2

by Jenna Schlener – Research Intern

We’re still waiting for all our materials to come in, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting in the field. We went out recently for another round of trapping with our partner from Cornell, Bryce Robinson, to find another abieticola (a subspecies of red-tailed hawks). 

Similar to our prior outing, we didn’t catch a bird until late in the day. Just as the sun set over the fields, our research coordinator Jim made one more attempt before we called it a day and this beautiful bird came to the trap.

A possible abieticola subspecies individual aka Drake. Photo by Jim Armbruster.

The rich colors on the wings and belly indicated this could be a good candidate to put a transmitter on. However, bird safety is our top priority and we decided there wasn’t enough time left in the day to release before dark. So we took some measurements, gave it a blue band reading “OS” and sent it on its way.

Our second day out we found a rather interesting bird. We spotted a red-tail hovering over an old carcass and dropped the trap. It came to the trap rather quickly and as Bryce removed the bird from the trap he was delighted, but torn. The “globby” dark belly band suggested this individual was very likely an abieticola, but it was a young bird. As we noted in our previous post, the goal of his study is to put transmitters on birds that will be breeding in the far north. Since this was a younger bird it might not breed this upcoming season. So once again, we took measurements, gave it a blue colorband (OR), and released it.

The particularly feisty young red-tailed hawk, colorband OR aka Heitman. Photo by Bryce Robinson.

The last day reminded us that sometimes you find what you’re looking for in unexpected places. We finally caught an ideal candidate, not on the expansive farmland, but near a golf course just outside of Middlebury Campus. With rich streaking, a nice dark belly band, and plenty of daylight left, we put our second transmitter out with the colorband “OB”. Of course, this meant we had no option but to name this bird Obi-Wan.

Lead environmental educator Anna Morris displays Obi-Wan, our second transmittered bird. Photo by Bryce Robinson.
A map of where we’ve seen red-tails so far (marked in red) and the birds we have banded (in yellow).

With that, our trapping has come to a pause. Until we get our units in we will continue to note where we see raptors to get a greater understanding of the distribution and abundance as winter progresses. We also search for our color banded and GPS mounted birds while in the area. With limited cell service both Goodrich and Middlebury have not sent locations in some time, but both were spotted during an outing yesterday. This confirms that they are healthy, and that the transmitters are still properly attached. Check back for more updates soon.

Middlebury perched in a tree near his initial capture location. Jim Armbruster

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