July 16, 2003

2003 Summer Bulletin

Fall Hawk Banding Class

For those of you wanting to learn how to catch fall migrant hawks, we will be holding a one day class for a limited number of people in both Seattle (Saturday, 16 August) and Mt. Vernon (Sunday 17 August) from 9-2 pm.

The class will cover in-hand ID (especially accipiters), aging and sexing, how to trap, weigh, measure and handle wild hawks, and what goes on at a banding station.

The class will be taught by Mark Gleason, Ed Deal, Martin Muller and Bud Anderson all experienced hawk trappers and members of the Entiat Ridge Experimental Hawk Banding Station.

This is our official introduction to the Entiat project. After completion of the class, you will be qualified to join the group at the blind near Leavenworth for an on-going, 6-week study of the fall hawk migration. Your role will be to extract birds from the traps, process them and release them safely. We will also be scouting out some new locations adjacent to the ridge for a second banding station. You'll be helping to determine how many birds occur at these locations.

To register, please send $100 to the Falcon Research Group, Box 248, Bow, WA 98232. Proceeds from the class go to support the project.

Last fall, our team banded 309 raptors of 10 species. Stalwart team members included Rik Adams, Gretchen Albrecht, Ann Fleck, Sara and Geoff Clark, Ray Cruz, Ed Deal, John Deliduka, Dean Drugge, Mike and Vicki Elledge, Fiona and Mark Gleason, Vivian Gross, Kathy Gunther, Susie Hindman, Sue Hoyer, Mitsuhiro Kawase, Dalene Keith, Pat Little, Marti Louther, Emma Lux, Don McCall, Martin Muller, Christy Mann, Roger Orness, Mary Pearson, Jim Shiftlett, Ruth Taylor, Dolly Turner, Shirley Vanderveen and Dennis Weeks. Thank you to everyone that participated on the 2002 study. As a thank you, this group is welcome to attend the class for free.

And don't forget this project starts in a month and a half! Fall is coming soon.

San Juan Peregrine Update

We have been monitoring nesting peregrines in the San Juan Islands since 1976. Over the last 23 years, the breeding population has grown from 1 pair in 1980 to 20 pairs in 2002.

This year, pairs occupied 18 of the 20 known sites. Among these pairs, 10 produced young (50%), one of the lower years for productivity that we have seen. The adults produced at least 23 eyasses, for a healthy 2.3 young per active pair.

Among the 10 failed sites, two were missing pairs, 4 failed at the incubation/brooding stage, two others failed for unknown reasons, and at the last two eyries the young were eaten by an unknown predator. At one of these sites, the adult female was also eaten, something we have seen only once before in the San Juans. We found her tail feathers atop the cliff and suspect that the predator was a ground mammal, e.g. raccoon, coyote, fox, mink, or possibly even an otter.

We saw banded adult females at two of the sites. One bird was a 2001 nestling banded at a San Juan nest site 15 miles away.

Special thanks to Ed Deal, Martin Muller, Marty Daniels and especially David and Ginger Ridgway for all their help this year.

City Peregrine Update

Peregrines first began breeding in the cities of western Washington ten years ago (1994). Stewart and Virginia at the Washington Mutual Tower were the first pair. Since then, falcons have continued to move into Seattle (4 pairs), Tacoma (1 pair), Bremerton (1 pair) and Everett (1 pair).

At the Washington Mutual Tower, Stewart and Bell failed to nest in 2003. However, Ruth Taylor suspects that a pair that laid eggs but failed on the 1 Union Building several blocks from WAMU may have been Bell with a different male (he's banded, Stewart isn't).

This summer, peregrines continued their expansion into the urban environments and new pairs were found attempting to breed on a crane in Olympia (Steve Herman), the East Channel freeway bridge between Mercer Island and Bellevue (Patricia Thompson) and now on the Grain Terminal (Ruth Taylor) in Seattle.

Peregrines seem to find bridges particularly attractive and are now nesting on at least 10 structures under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Department of Transportation. DOT personnel, particularly Seattle-based Mike McDonald and Tacoma-based Kip Wylie, have been instrumental in working with us to get these birds banded. We would like to extend our gratitude to the DOT for generously assisting with the nesting of these birds. They have shown a genuine concern for the welfare of Washington wildlife and should be commended for their efforts.

"Long-billed Red-tails"

Over the past several years, we have been noticing an increasing number of local wild Red-tailed Hawks that exhibit distinctive overgrown beaks. So far, we have seen this feature on birds from the Samish Flats (3), Bow Hill (1), Fir Island (1), Anacortes (1) and south Whidbey Island (1). Cindy Willis and Dennis Ryan report the bird on Whidbey has a beak that is so overgrown that it has "crossed".

The cause of this condition remains unknown. We do know that the beak material appears to be "harder" and "flakier" than normal. As the beak continues to grow, it can prevent the bird from eating and will eventually cause death from starvation. At least three additional birds have been brought into the Sarvey Wildlife Center in such emaciated condition (fide Kay Baxter).

We have also seen the "long-beaked syndrome" in a wintering adult male Rough-legged Hawk, confirming that it can occur in other species of raptors and suggesting that the condition originates here on their wintering grounds.

To our knowledge, this condition had never been seen in western Washington prior to about 5 years ago. Dr. Eric Stauber, chief raptor veterinarian at the WSU Raptor Clinic had never seen it until this year when we sent him a bird with such a beak. Dr. Pat Redig, the world's leading raptor vet with the Minnesota Raptor Center, is also unfamiliar with it.

Therefore, we would like to ask FRG members to keep an eye out for such Red-tails and to report the date and location of such birds to Bud Anderson. We are trying to determine the geographic extent of the condition at this time and you can help.

It is important to remember that few of us actually look closely at Red-tails anymore. However, if you take a minute to examine their head profiles with a spotting scope, an overgrown beak will become very obvious to you. The tip of the beak will extend down much farther than normal.

Canary Island Barbarys

Canary Island Barbary Falcon eyasses.
Photo by: Jesus Garcia Ubierna, 2003.

There are approximately 38 species of falcons in the world. Most are kestrels (13). Among the rarer, larger species, there are desert falcons (e.g. Prairie Falcons, Lanners, Sakers and Gyrs) and the peregrine group (e.g. Orange-breasted Falcons, Peregrines).

Within the peregrine group, there are two "species" of controversial status, the Barbary Falcon of North Africa and the Red-naped Shaheen that extends from Iran into China.

The taxonomic status of both remains unclear and has been debated for well over a century. Their scientific name is Falco pelegrinoides, which means "peregrine-like", reflecting this confusion.

The Barbary form is known to occur in the Canary Islands off Morocco. A very similar form (Falco peregrinus madens) occurs to the south in the Cape Verde Islands off Africa but is considered to be a subspecies of peregrine. We have collected DNA samples from the Cape Verde falcons and wanted to compare them with the known Barbary Falcons from the Canarys.

In April, a team consisting of Kathy Gunther, Zach Smith and Bud Anderson traveled to Spanish Gran Canaria and met the falcon authority in the islands, Dr. Jesus Garcia Ubierna, a most gracious host. We worked together for several weeks visiting three islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote) and collected DNA samples from three falcons. They proved to be very difficult to capture.

We saw many nesting Barbarys in their native habitats and came away with the impression of a trimmed down, super-fast hyper-peregrine. In our opinion, they are very different than peregrines in many aspects but, of course, similar in many others. We hope that the DNA samples we collected will assist in clarifying the relationship between the two forms. They are currently being analyzed by the USFWS in Alaska.

Canary Island Barbary Falcon
photo by : Jesus Ubierna Garcia, 2003

Recent Peregrine Band Returns

As many of you know, we apply special black, numbered leg bands (VID bands) to many of our local eyass (nestling) peregrines. Because of the high number of skilled birders and raptor people in our area, we receive a lot of sightings of these banded birds. Our extraordinarily high rate of returns/sightings hovers around 24%. In other words, we have sightings from 1 of every four birds we band. Great stuff!

Here are our most recent results. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

1. Mortality among banded nestlings begins almost immediately. This year, we were banding chicks at a San Juan eyrie and found another VID band (69B) on the nest ledge. It was from a nestling we had banded two years earlier on 3 June. This bird never made it off the ledge. Whether it was killed by a predator or died naturally is unknown.

2. It has long been recognized that peregrines raised on bridges seem to have a particularly high rate of mortality. The young often fledge into the water below the bridges and drown on their maiden flights. This season, two of the Tacoma nestlings were found in the water below the 11th Street bridge. Roger Orness reports that one was successfully retrieved and placed back on the bridge by Kip Wylie of the DOT. The other was found dead in the water.

3. Ed Deal and Mark Prostor banded an adult female peregrine (67B) as a nestling in the SJIs on 3 June 2001. This is the famous "upside down band" bird. Canadian peregrine biologist Don Doyle saw her the following year at Clover Point, B.C.near Victoria on 23 April and then Jack Bettesworth observed her on Whidbey Island on 26 May. This summer, we found her breeding at another San Juan nest site, approximately 15 miles from her natal origin. She successfully raised two young.

4. Another female peregrine (29D) banded as a nestling by Kathy Gunther and Bud Anderson in the San Juans on 2 June 2002 (same nest as #3) was seen in Blaine on 28 September 2002 and again in Bellingham on 29 April 2003.

5. An immature male peregrine (64B) banded as a nestling in the San Juans on 25 May 2002 was trapped by Bud Anderson on a field trip on Fir Island on 1 March 2003, 28 miles from its natal site.

6. An adult female peregrine (P3) banded as a nestling by Wendy Gibble in the San Juans on 4 June 1997 was found breeding at another San Juan site on 8 July 1999. She has not been found breeding since then but was reported eating a Band-tailed Pigeon at Lake Whatcom near Bellingham on 7 June 2003.

7. Don Doyle trapped another adult female San Juan peregrine (N2) on 13 June 2003 at a nest site near Duncan, B.C. Wendy Gibble also banded this bird as a nestling on 12 June 1999. Roger Orness and Jack Bettesworth have seen this falcon over several winters in the Kent Valley (24 January 2000, 4 November 2001 and 18 April 2002). This seems to be her wintering area. Don has placed a satellite transmitter on N2 and will be updating us on her whereabouts.

N2, San Juan Island peregrine.

N2, San Juan Island peregrine
w/ transmitter attached.

More on Merlins

It is always enjoyable to report on nesting Merlins as we know so little about them in Washington. This year, Jim Fackler saw at least three pairs nesting in Mt. Vernon, all within a relatively small area. Typical of urban Merlins, they were found nesting in neighborhoods right in town and surrounded by people. They are always an event for the local residents as the adults and young are so noisy and entertaining.

As more Merlins are produced in cities, (adults usually have 5 young) you can expect to see a rapid expansion into other towns. Several more pairs have been reported in other western Washington communities this year but we were unable to confirm these reports. So keep looking for them in your neighborhood. And let us know when you see them….

The Satellite Red-tail

Last fall at Entiat Ridge, Susie Hindman caught an adult female Red-tailed Hawk, which is a rarely captured bird in fall migration in Washington. We applied a satellite transmitter and released the bird. Instead of heading south (as we told her to), the hawk veered back north to Glacier Peak and hung out awhile before dropping west into the Snohomish River Valley! This was completely unexpected, to say the least, but fascinating data. She is still there as I write this newsletter. Apparently she was just on a little fall tour and went for one of our "snacks" at the ridge. We did not know that our local west side Red-tails did this type of "touring" but apparently they do.

Annual Dues

We enjoy sharing the results of our work with fellow raptor enthusiasts and we hope that you enjoy hearing about them. Your annual support of the FRG allows us to continue these projects and to learn more about these remarkable "sky-sharks". Your annual membership dues ($25) help the group to meet its research and educational goals (Please send your membership dues to:

Falcon Research Group (FRG)
BOX 248
Bow, Wa. 98232

In addition, if you have a special interest in a particular project, we welcome your donations to help underwrite the costs of our special projects. These include the San Juan Peregrine Project, the Entiat Ridge Experimental Hawk Banding Station, Monitoring Urban Peregrines and special initiatives such as the Global Peregrine DNA Survey.

We welcome your interest, your involvement and thank you for your support.