Ferruginous Hawk Telemetry 2015

Justine Kummer and I spent a few days down south near Pincher Creek, AB, with Bayne-lab graduate student, Jesse Watson, to catch his study species, ferruginous hawks (FEHA). Hawk work is VERY different from deploying automated recording units (ARUs) in boreal Alberta, which I am quite familiar with for my own study focused on bioacoustics. I’ve heard the Raptor Ecology and Conservation Team (REACT) has spent so much time driving throughout southern Alberta and Saskatchewan searching for and monitoring FEHA nests that they could have actually traveled to the moon and back (and then some)… I now understand how this could be the case.

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Feist, the great-horned owl that we use to provoke the hawks into the nets set up around her. The FEHA saw her as a threat and would dive at her, getting caught in the nets. (Photo: Natasha Annich)

For the most part, FEHA work consists of driving all over the prairies monitoring various hawk nests. Along with watching these birds from afar, FEHA researchers also peep into the nests to count and monitor the chicks, something that Justine and I got to experience as well. Jesse’s project on FEHA deals with tracking the movements of this species during the breeding season. This season he was interested in attaching transmitters on individuals nesting on transmission towers in the western edge of the study area (Fort Macleod region).

In order to get location data for the FEHA, Jesse attaches solar-powered GPS transmitters to the back of the male FEHA he catches. Males are selectively chosen, as they will explore the entirety of the home range of each breeding pair of FEHA to search for food to bring home to his female partner and chicks. Additionally, the male is responsible for defending his territory. The female will move a bit throughout this area, but most of her time is spent in the nest with the young, making her a less ideal candidate to track.

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Jesse Watson getting ready to remove the hood from the male FEHA that I was holding. (Photo: Justine Kummer)

On our third day of FEHA work, Justine and I got to experience the thrill of interacting with these birds. We managed to catch both the female and male of a breeding pair that were nesting on a transmission tower! It isn’t everyday that both of the adults get caught, so everybody was quite excited. We took measurements and weights from both birds and then released the female while Jesse worked quickly to stitch together the strands of the GPS transmitter backpack that was now sitting on the back of the male. Once the transmitter was secured, I got to release the male, and he headed straight back to his home on the transmission tower. It was an incredible experience, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to learn about the cool work going on in my own lab!

Now I am heading back to the boreal for more ARU deployments and to search for some broad-winged hawk (BWHA) nests for Jesse to trap at next. As an experiment, all of the boreal researchers should wear step-counters to see how close we’re getting to the moon with all of our walking!

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Getting ready to release the male FEHA with the solar-powered GPS transmitter on his back. (Photo: Justine Kummer)

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Releasing the male FEHA. (Photo: Justine Kummer)

Post by Natasha Annich