Wild Weather

Photo: Janet Ng.

Photo: Janet Ng.

Spring snow storms, tornado warnings, hail storms, and thunder storms are all part of field work. While we can take cover in our houses and trucks, Ferruginous Hawks are left out in the storm to fend for themselves.

It can get pretty rough out there. In fact, Ferruginous Hawk nests can actually blow right out of the tree, usually killing the eggs or young. Our nest monitoring program has found that 20% of nest failures are due to nests blow-outs and climate change scientists are worried that this will happen more often when storms become more frequent and more severe.

 

World’s Biggest Ferruginous Hawk Nest

FEHA nest sculpture in Leader, SK.  Photo: Janet Ng

FEHA nest sculpture in Leader, SK. Photo: Janet Ng

Some of our field work takes up to far flung places in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Leader, Saskatchewan has several claims-to-fame including nine Larger Than Life sculptures that are scattered through town.

Our favourite, of course, is the 15 foot Ferruginous Hawk nest that resides on main street.

FYI, they frown upon climbing into the nest.

Burrowing Owl family in Leader, SK.  Photo: Janet Ng

Burrowing Owl family in Leader, SK. Photo: Janet Ng

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.

Counting Beaks and Butts

BabyFEHALookingUp2

Baby Ferruginous Hawks look up at our Tree Peeper camera. Photo: Janet Ng.

Our Raptor Ecology and Conservation Team (REACT) is running North America’s largest Ferruginous Hawk nest monitoring program.  In order to study Ferruginous Hawk ecology and potential cumulative effects, we check on hawk nests once a week to compare nest success across the Canadian Prairies.

We use an extendable painter’s pole with a camera mounted on the top to peer into nests.  We call them our “Tree Peepers”, trademark pending.  This method is effective and fast, thereby reducing disturbance to the nest. Check out the video below to see how’s it done.

 

We check on nests until the young fledge (i.e. naturally leave the nest) or until the nest is done.  If the nest didn’t fledge any young, we record reasons for failure.  Was it predated?  What kind of animal was the predator?  If the nest was successful, then we record the number of young fledged, when they left the nest, and other similar data.

All the data goes into our huge database (cue computer noises) and is readied for our analyses.

Nice view, guys!  Photo: Janet Ng

Nice view, guys! Photo: Janet Ng