Skagit Raptor Project Report December 21, 2013

By Ben Vang-Johnson, Project Lead

Today was a banding day.  It started out quick, with numerous raptors in good position to try to trap.  We attempted to trap a red-tailed hawk high up in a tree.  We waited quite a while, and finally the hawk saw the mouse, showed some interest, and then dove down towards the trap.  But just as it was about to land on the trap a jogger came around the corner and scared the bird away!  We waited a while longer in hopes that the hawk would attempt to land on the trap again.  Although it showed some continued interest, it was not enough to entice the hawk back down from the tree and eventually the hawk seemed to become uninterested in the trap.  The best chance to catch a hawk is on the first attempt.  If something goes wrong often times you don’t get a second chance, especially with red-tailed hawks.

Shortly after that we came across an unbanded female American kestrel.  We set the trap and waited.  Eventually the kestrel showed some interest and landed on the trap.  Although it jumped all over the top of the trap on three separate occasions, the nooses failed to entangle its feet and eventually it lost interest and flew away.  Luck didn’t appear to be with us today.

We got a third try at a raptor.  We deployed the trap for another red-tailed hawk.  After just a couple minutes the hawk jumped off its perch and dove down, landed on the trap, and was captured!  Finally, we had some luck.  The red-tailed hawk was a second year (SY) bird, meaning that it would have been hatched summer 2012.  We were able to determine this because although it had an adult’s red tail feathers, it had retained juvenile feathers elsewhere in its plumage.  The arrows in the photos show some of its retained juvenile secondaries, identified by being slightly shorter and less broad than the adjacent new adult feathers.  These retained feathers are also much more faded and worn at the tips than the adult feathers.  Other arrows point to retained coverts and back feathers, identified by being faded and worn compared to adjacent new adult feathers.  Red-tailed hawks go through a molt each year, generally between late spring to late fall.  However, these hawks do not have a complete molt, meaning it takes 2 molt cycles (two years) to replace all feathers.  This particular bird didn’t replace all its feathers during its last molt (which likely would have concluded in the fall) and it now has a few retained feathers from the previous year (which in this case are juvenile feathers) in its secondaries, greater coverts, and back feathers.

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