Point Count Training – June 8th and 9th, 2014


Puget Sound Bird Observatory will be offering a Point Count Training on Sunday evening, June  8, 2014 from 6:00 to 8:30. The training will be held in Shoreline at Fire Station #65 located at 145 NE 155th, Shoreline, Washington 98155. Field training will follow on Monday morning, June 9th from 6:00 to 7:30.

Point counts are a method used to inventory and monitor bird populations. Some sight/sound identification skills are useful for the class, but strategies for learning bird sounds will be covered in the class. The course will also cover applications for point count monitoring, distance monitoring, Breeding Bird Survey monitoring, spot mapping, transects and some tricks of the trade to reduce errors in detection and data recording.

Class Fee

There is a $30.00 fee for the course ($25.00 for PSBO members). To register for the class, please email contact@pugetsoundbirds.org or call (425) 876-1055.

Fifty Shades of Brown – The Fox Sparrow Diaries

The Fox Sparrow, (Passerella iliaca spp. unalaschensis), is the quintessential LBJ (little brown job) of birds. They are described in The Birds of North America series as “generally brown” and “flanks have rufous to sooty brown streaks”, “wings, upper tail coverts, and rectrices are rufous to dark sooty brown”, “upper mandible is blackish brown, feet and legs are pinkish brown to reddish brown, iris is dark brown to reddish brown”,…well you get the picture!

Over the next few years we will be giving some local Fox Sparrows a bit of splash by placing color bands on birds near the Shoreline Community College and Shoreview Park. This spot of color will help us identify individuals and track their presence for a multi-year, wintering habitat study.

Weekly surveys are currently being conducted and color-banding kicks off this Sunday, March 2, 2014. Contact Cindy Easterson at eastersonfamily@msn.com for details about how to get involved in this exciting study. Be sure to continue to check this blog to see how the study is progressing.

Raptor Banding Report January 25, 2014

By Ben Vang-Johnson, Lead Researcher

Today we went banding.  The day started pretty foggy.  Sometimes it was difficult to see even the nearby tree tops.  We deployed traps near a few different red-tailed hawks over the first few hours.  All the hawks seemed to be in great position to be trapped, but none even responded.  We were getting worried we might get skunked.  The fog finally broke and it turned into a beautiful day in the Skagit.  And our luck started to change.

With only about any hour left on our trip we trapped a dark morph, juvenile red-tailed hawk.  After dropping the trap, the hawk came down to the trap and was caught almost immediately.  Interestingly, some characteristics of this bird seemed like a Harlan’s subspecies, such as the overall blackish and whitish coloration as opposed to the warmer browns of Calurus subspecies (our most common around here), but we won’t know for sure until it gets its adult tail plumage. Hopefully we’ll resight this bird next year and/or beyond and be able to determine if it really is a Harlan’s.  After banding and releasing this beautiful bird, now known as Blue 39, we almost immediately caught a second juvenile red-tail.  This one a light morph Calurus subspecies, now known as Blue 61.  The day started slow, but the last hour was exciting and well worth the effort.

Raptor Trapping Techniques

Skagit Raptor Project Trapping Techniques
By Ben Vang-Johnson, Project Lead

PSBO’s Skagit Raptor project utilizes three raptor trapping techniques to capture raptors for banding.  All three were developed by falconers in India many centuries ago.  These techniques take advantage of raptors’ hunting behaviors to capture them.

The bal-chatri is a versatile trap that can be used to capture many species of raptors.  It is particularly effective for such species as red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and American kestrels, and is the primary trap used to capture these three species for the Skagit project.  A bal-chatri is essentially a small cage, often in a half cylinder, conical, or rectangular shape, with many monofilament nooses attached to the exposed surfaces.  A lure animal, such as a mouse or non-native bird is placed in the cage.  The trap is then deployed within sight of a perched raptor, often from a car along roadsides.  The movement of the lure animal will attract the raptor, and when the raptor flies down and lands on the trap, the nooses will ensnare the raptors toes and feet.

bal-chatri trap

The dho-gaza trap can also be used for many species, but is particularly well suited for capturing falcons.  The Skagit project uses dho-gazas to capture merlins.  A dho-gaza is essentially a small net attached at its four corners to some sort of pole frame.  The net is attached in such a way as to be easily pulled off its pole frame – for example, with paperclips.  A cinch-line string attached at one end to the pole frame is run through the outer mesh squares of the net along all four sides, and then attached again to the frame.  A lure animal, such as a tethered house sparrow or starling, is used to attract the raptor.  The trap is positioned within sight of a raptor, and perpendicular to the path the raptor is expected to take to get to the lure animal.  The lure animal is placed on the opposite side of the net as the raptor.  The movement of the lure animal will attract the raptor and it will make a stoop down to capture the lure.  But before it gets to the lure the raptor will hit the net, which will detach from the pole frame, and the cinch-line string will close the net behind the raptor, effectively forming a net bag around the raptor.

dho-gaza trap

The phai, or hoop trap, is a good trap for falcons and accipiters.  The Skagit project uses a phai trap to capture merlins.  The trap is a hoop, such as a hoop made out of a wood dowel, and has many upright nooses placed all along its length.  A lure animal, such as a non-native bird, is placed in the center of the hoop.  The trap is deployed within sight of a raptor.  The lure animal appears to be an easy meal for a raptor to scoop-up in-flight.  The raptor dives down toward the lure animal and as it extends its legs to grap the lure, its legs are ensnared by the hoop’s nooses.  Compared to the dho-gaza, this trap has the advantage of being able to capture the raptor from any angle of approach, as the hoop and nooses encircle the lure.

phai trap

To learn more about the Skagit Wintering Raptor Project, visit the project’s web page.


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.

Anna’s Hummingbird Study Results, December 2013

By Jenn Jarstad, MS Candidate

Hello Anna’s Hummingbird Fans:

As promised, here are some brief results from the study of Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna) that we all conducted over the past 2 months.  I am indebted with gratitude for the success of this project, and owe it to you all for participating, as well as Puget Sound Bird Observatory (PSBO) for hosting the study on their website, and to Tweeters for allowing me to post requests.

The impetus behind this project was to engage the greater Puget Sound community in a hummingbird habitat advocacy project.  The project was initially directed toward Puget Sound residents; however, it soon grew to include all of Western Washington, and eventually the entire state of Washington, driven by interest of participants from various parts of the state.

The project was broken down into three segments, the first of which began with a survey to determine whom (if anyone) was interested in attracting hummingbirds to our area, and just how much participants knew about the Anna’s hummingbird, how much they wanted to learn, and finally, how many were interested in participating in a study to document the presence of the Anna’s hummingbird in our region as we entered into the late fall.  The second portion of the project included writing up an educational document based on the results of the first survey, and making it available to interested participants.  This was sent out via the Internet (hosted by PSBO) along with an invitation to participate in journaling Anna’s hummingbird observations over the following six week period.  The final phase included a follow-up survey to find out what (if anything) had changed in the way of Anna’s hummingbird observations since prior to commencement of the project.

Click here to see the results of the study Annas Hummingbird FINAL results.

Skagit Flats Raptors Field Report 12-7-2013

By Ben Vang-Johnson

Saturday was sunny and beautiful, but cold.  Perhaps the birds were affected by the cold, but for whatever reason we saw far fewer birds than usual.  It proved to be a frustrating day.  We tried trapping several red-tailed hawks, but they seemed content to sit tight on their perches.  A great looking dark-morph red-tailed hawk was one of them uninterested in the trap (see picture).  Late in the day we had a red-tailed hawk respond immediately to the trap and landed on it. But luck wasn’t with us and it was able to fly off without getting caught (see picture).

A PSBO volunteer in another vehicle did spot a previously color-banded kestrel on Maupin Road.  It was a female with a red band, but the observers didn’t get a close enough look to determine what number was on the color band.  Can’t be certain, but it may have been 03, a female originally banded 2/2/2013 near this location and was recaptured 11/30/2013.  All observations of this bird has been within a half mile of each other.

Not much action as raptors go, but we did get some beautiful views of Mt Baker and saw large flocks of snow geese (see pictures).



Skagit Raptors Field Report November 30, 2013

By Ben Vang Johnson, Project Lead

On Saturday we went out on a banding trip.  It was overcast with occasional drizzle.  Raptors seemed scarce to find at first.  We made an attempt to trap a hunting female American kestrel.  She was hunting a field from powerlines.  We placed a bal-chatri trap baited with mice nearby.  She seemed to watch it for awhile, but then continued to hunt the field.  We then set a second bal-chatri trap baited with a house sparrow to try to entice her down.  Again she watched it, but then went back to hunting worms in the field.  We saw her make several successful captures of worms, which she would then eat while perched on the powerline. When it was obvious she wasn’t going to go for our traps we picked them up and went looking for other birds.

In the same area we saw a nice merlin perched on a conifer.  We set our phai trap with a house sparrow and really expected this merlin to go for it.  It seemed to be in a perfect position.  It took off from it’s perch and we thought it was coming in.  But instead of coming for our trap, it chased after a wild songbird and disappeared over a barn!  Too bad.

Recaptured female kestrel. Photo by Ben Vang Johnson

Later in the day we spotted another female kestrel in a different location and set out a bal-chatri with sparrow.  She came in right away and was captured.  Turns out she was one of the birds we banded last winter!  Another piece of data showing winter site fidelity.  She was number 03 (red band).  She was originally banded 2/2/2013 about half a mile away from where we caught her this weekend.  We processed her and let her go. She looked very healthy.

Less than a mile away we came across another kestrel, a male this time.  Again, hunting worms from a powerline.  We noticed immediately that he was already banded with our red bands, so instead of putting out the trap we setup our scope to try to get a resighting. We watched him make several successful captures of worms.  We were able to determine the first digit of his band was “0”, but had difficulty with the second digit.  It was either 00 or 04, but we just couldn’t be certain.  He was located along a busy road and he was very active making hunting attempts in the field.  It was also very windy and the scope was vibrating quite a lot, making the resighting difficult.  I suspect it was 00, a male banded on 11/11/2012 less than half a mile away from this location.

Our last trapping attempt was made on a red-tailed hawk which we put out a bal-chatri baited with mice.  The red-tail was in a good location to see the mice and we found a good spot to watch from.  While hoping the red-tail would take the bait, a vehicle came down the road and stopped right under it.  The raptor got spooked and flew off.  Oh well, the challenges of trapping in populated areas. Although somewhat frustrating day with our misses, it still felt good to get some valuable site fidelity data from a recapture and partial resighting.


Banding Birds at the Puget Sound Bird Observatory

By Ellen Blackstone, BirdNote Writer and Web Content Manager
Note: This blog first appeared on BirdNote on November 5, 2013
Suzanne Tomassi, vice president of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory, talks about the rhyme and reason to banding birds…

One of the benefits of banding, which is a mark-recapture technique, is that it gives us the opportunity to assess “vital rates,” measures such as survival rate, recapture probability, and recruitment. These data are useful in:
* Identifying species that might be facing environmental pressures
* Identifying “sources” and “sinks,” (respectively, high quality habitat that on average allows a population to increase, and low quality habitat that, on its own, is unable to support a population)
* Clarifying other population dynamics that are used to inform conservation decisions

Bird banding data are useful in both research and management projects, making it possible to study dispersal, migration, community social structure, life span, and any number of population parameters.

The Identification Guide to North American Birds, or the “Pyle guide,” is the bander’s ultimate reference. It collates everything we know about a species’ characteristics, including age, sex, size of certain feathers and body parts, color variation, et cetera, in a way that helps us gather as much information as possible about the bird in our hand. Each bird presents a small puzzle, providing cues and clues that we use to determine whether the bird is male or female, how old it is, its health, and if it is in breeding condition. Of course, since banding is a mark-recapture technique, we already know something about our bird if it has a band from a previous capture on it.

Let’s start at the beginning – let’s say we just caught an unbanded bird. Here’s an example of how we might work through the age puzzle, piecing together clues using our Pyle guide. Say Pyle tells us that a species we are examining normally molts (replaces) all or most median and greater coverts (these are feather tracts on the wings) and no tail feathers or primaries and secondaries (the long wing feathers) during its very first molt after hatching. Pyle might tell us that this first molt occurs on the bird’s wintering grounds.  Then in spring, suppose we catch a bird that has pale, tattered tail and wing feathers, but contrasting fresh-looking coverts.  We can guess that the fresh feathers were replaced, while the old feathers are worn from winter and migration. Pyle then tells us that, subsequent to that first molt, the species molts all its feathers every year. We can conclude that the bird we are holding is starting its second year, having hatched the year before.

It sounds straightforward enough on paper, but the subtleties quickly become apparent in the field. So we use as many clues as we can. We might be able to see “windows” in the skull (viewed through the skin) where it has not yet pneumatized, implying a “hatch year” bird. There might be other clues to age – How worn are the feathers? Does the bird have any characteristic juvenile traits that might tell us it just hatched? These might be a yellow edge to the bill (or “gape”), loosely textured feathers, an eye color different from that of an adult of the species. Does it have a “brood patch,” indicating that it might have young in a nest, or at least that it’s an adult making an attempt at breeding? We gather as many clues as we can and make an age determination. Most passerines can be reliably aged only as hatch year, second year, or after-second year.

All banders send their banding data to the Bird Banding Laboratory at the USGS, so any banded bird can be identified. Every band is accounted for, and every banded bird has added to our base of knowledge.

Data forms and measuring gear on the banding table Old, faded, worn primary coverts

The brown feathers on the outer edge, retained from hatch year, indicate a second-year bird by the contrast with newer, replaced feathers. (There are actually three feather generations in the wing above – see labels below of a similar situation.)

Note the difference in feather structure between juvenile (brown, more loosely textured) and basic (darker, tighter) feathers. Females (and sometimes males) form a vascularized “brood patch” to keep eggs and chicks warm. It is a key in both sexing and ageing. The banding table, with Pyle guides open.
Spotted Towhee eye color is a clue in ageing this species. Wilson’s Warbler Cedar Waxwing
Pileated Woodpecker. Woodpeckers have unique molt strategies that allow us to age them up to their third year.


Listen to a BirdNote story about banding birds at the PSBO.

Puget Sound Bird Observatory studies birds and their habitats in the Pacific Northwest to better understand changes in bird populations, to inform decision makers, and to engage the public with birds and their needs. Learn more!

Here’s a show about Banding Hummingbirds.

Report banded birds at ReportBand.gov. That’s the Patuxent Wildlife Research Bird Banding Laboratory.

Seen an American Crow with legbands? Learn about what to report — and how — at UWCrows.

2013 Birds at the Burke

By Christine Southwick, PSBO President

Thanks to everyone who came out to meet us at the recent Birds at the Burke event! We made a lot of new friends, caught up with old friends, and provided some great opportunities for hands-on learning.

Outside, we had a mist net set up with a display about how and why we band, and our new wing-lengths banner. Inside, a tabletop display which included our new “Which local bird eats…?” board was a real crowd pleaser. Thank you, Mark for making that board and adding grommets on the banner!

We gave a lot of goodies away to enthusiastic participants including 50 cloth card holders with our new, professionally-crafted business cards; 45 small hand-sewn birds that were thrown into the net by enthusiastic children (and a few adults); and almost all of our bookmarks.

There were great talks, live birds, and lots of specimens I hadn’t seen before, including an albatross which has a really BIG and LONG body. Our wing-length banner has Wandering Albatross as having an 11’6″ wing span–that’s about a foot taller than Cindy and I standing head-to-toe!

My highest thanks to Cindy, Kira, Ben, Mark, and our high school bander Mira Lamb for helping with supplies and long hours staffing the tables. And to Rachel Crick for allowing us to share her wonderful photos.