Finding Old Friends

A returning banded male Ferruginous Hawk with his mate.  Photo: Janet Ng.

A returning banded male Ferruginous Hawk with his mate. Photo: Janet Ng.

Each bird we handle, we add two small pieces of jewellery. Both are thin metal bands that wrap loosely around their lower leg. One is a plain silver-coloured leg band that has a unique serial number engraved on it. The second leg band is coloured with a unique combination of large letters and numbers that can be seen from a distance or through a spotting scope. The National Banding Office keeps track of the band numbers and colour combos.

I encountered this pair of Ferruginous Hawks during our spring reoccupancy surveys. They were hanging out on a distribution line, in a territory that was occupied two years ago. Looking through a spotting scope, it looked like the male (the smaller hawk on the left) was wearing a leg band, but he was too far to read the band through my spotting scope. Instead, I took a photo using a telephoto lens and then zoomed in to read the band. Black 7 over S!

Resighting a band on a live bird is a rare event. Imagine writing your name on a ball and throwing it back into a huge ball pit at a play park. Now go find it. You could spend a very long time looking for it and it’s possible that you never see it again.

But finding a banded bird again can provide valuable information. If you banded it as a youngster, you will have age, where it was born, and the where it lives now. Sometimes birds are found during migration, providing important information about their migratory timing and pathway.

Male Black 7 over S was banded as an adult in 2012. He was captured in order to attach a short term satellite transmitter that was designed to fall off naturally. We collected data from the transmitter for several weeks during the breeding season, until the battery quit as planned.

A different male Ferruginous Hawk, but a nice looking bird wearing one of our satellite transmitters.  Photo: Janet Ng.

A different male Ferruginous Hawk, but a nice looking bird wearing one of our satellite transmitters (see the dark spot on his back). Photo: Janet Ng.

Resighting this male is interesting in several ways. 1) He has returned to his original home range with a potential mate. We’ll keep an eye on him this summer to see if he nests. 2) He is no longer wearing his backpack transmitter, which makes us feel good that he doesn’t have to carry his transmitter anymore.

Our project has banded nestlings for specific research objectives too.   Each year, we wait to see if any bird can be re-sighted by our group, other biologists, and citizen scientists.

Here is a young female Ferruginous Hawk sporting her new bands.On the left leg (her right leg) is the field-readable colour band and the silver band with serial number is on the right leg. Photo: Janet Ng.

Here is a young female Ferruginous Hawk sporting her new bands.On the left leg (her right leg) is the field-readable colour band and the silver band with serial number is on the right leg. Photo: Janet Ng.

Keep checking back for posts about our satellite tracking, juvenile life after leaving the nest, and banding.

2 thoughts on “Finding Old Friends

    • Our project uses a specific colour scheme so that even if we can’t read the letters and numbers on the band, we can have a idea of the sex and where the bird was banded. In Alberta, we band males with black and females with red bands. In Saskatchewan, we band males with blue and females with orange bands. Collaborators have used blue unmarked (no alpha-numerics) for nestlings banded in Maple Creek area nests. All banding is accompanied with a silver National Banding Office band with unique serial number. All of our banding information is also submitted to the National Banding Office, so you can either contact them or try us if you sight a bird.

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