Capturing the Red-shouldered Hawk

We went birding today with the Rochester Birding Association, which offered a beginner’s birding tour.  Although my wife and I have been photographing birds for three years we still consider ourselves beginners. We started at Charlotte Beach where we saw Mallard and Long-tailed Ducks, along with the usual Ring-billed and other Gulls. From there we traveled a short distance down Edgemere Drive to a power plant to drop in on a Kingfisher, and a King Eider, among other birds distant on and over Lake Ontario.

We traveled to Braddock Bay where we saw several hawks, Tundra Swan, and Canadian Geese (some of these will be posted to my on-line gallery in the near future). We then set out for Owl Woods on the western side of Braddock Bay.  Unfortunately, we were told by another known birder that no Saw-whet Owls were to be found. We continued along the trail to a well-known banding blind,. As we approached we were greeted by a young man, Andrew, holding a Red-tail Hawk that had just been banded.  I was too close to get a shot of the Red-tail with my super-telephoto.  We were invited to enter the blind to watch how raptors are captured and banded. Outside the blind were three netted traps set with live bait birds. These birds are protected as much as possible, but we were told that occasionally one is injured. One must have a federal permit to band birds, and a special permit is necessary to capture and band birds on the endangered list. Banding skills are learned through an apprentice system. Once the master bander documents that you’re ready you can then apply for your own permit.

We weren’t in the blind for 10 minutes before another hawk was captured — this one a Red-Shouldered Hawk! The following photo shows the circular net that was sprung once the bird landed. I find it so impressive that raptors, generally seen only at a distance, are so easily captured with a blind, bait, and a manually sprung net. Once the bird was captured, one of the researchers went out and retrieved the bird, that became amazingly docile, as shown in the next photograph.

Then, carrying the bird cradled in one arm, much as you might carry a baby (though one hand held the bird’s legs just above the talons), the bander returned to the blind, showed the bird to us — still quite calm. Next, he inserted the bird head first into a long, properly sized tin can! We’re told this keeps the bird calm while it is sized  for a band, weighed and measured, and checked for whether it has recently eaten or not. This information is recorded for later entry to a shared database.  For those of you who would like to see what the poor guy looked liked after this “harrowing” experience — here he is, held securely by Andrew. Doesn’t look too bad, eh? If the bird is ever captured again, or his remains found, his location and any other information will be entered into the shared database so researchers can study his movement and physical condition over time.

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