January 1, 2004

Winter 2004 Bulletin

Entiat Ridge Fall Hawk Migration Results

Last fall, 34 FRG volunteers conducted our third annual hawk-banding project at Entiat Ridge in the Cascade Mountains near Leavenworth, Washington. Coordinated by Mark Gleason, the project ran for 48 days from 1 September through 18 October.

The team caught, banded and released 228 raptors (9 species). As usual, the majority was accipiters (82%), confirming that the best place to learn your accipiters is at a fall banding station. The total included 145 Sharp-shinned Hawks (64%), 39 Cooper’s Hawks (17%), 2 Northern Goshawks, 6 American Kestrels, 11 Merlins, 3 Peregrine Falcons, 2 Prairie Falcons, 2 Northern Harriers, and 18 Red-tailed Hawks.

Many thanks to team leaders Mark Gleason, Martin Muller, Mike and Vickie Elledge, Sue Hindman, Kathy Gunther and Ed Deal. They were ably assisted by Rik Adams, Gretchen Albrecht, Steve Biber, Tim Boyer, Carolyn and George Brannen, Ray Cruz, John Deliduka, Lou Ann Harris, Mary Hogan, Mitsuhiro Kawase, Donald Kent, Dalene Keith, Lee Kincaid, Pat Little, Megan Lyden, Roger Orness, Don McCall, Bryan McCormick, Jim Shiflett, Megan and Jeremy Strahler, Ruth Taylor, Matt Treat, Shirley Vanderveen, Jerry Van Vleck and especially Vivian Gross who ran the schedule.

We have now banded a total of 754 fall migrant hawks at Entiat Ridge, 217 in 2001 (29%), 309 in 2002 (41%) and 228 in 2003 (30%).

We would like to once again extend our gratitude to the Longview Fibre Company for permission to continue this work on their property at Entiat Ridge.

Annual Skagit Flats Valentines Day Hawk Census

The fifteenth annual FRG hawk count will be held on Saturday, 14 February, this year. As usual, the survey will take place from 9-11 am with a meeting at the Padilla Bay Center afterwards. If you are a team leader or a new member and would like to participate in the survey, please contact the count coordinator, Bob Merrick, at (360) 678-3161. See you there.

Great Gray Owls

Great Gray Owls are a relatively rare species in western Washington, but every so often a small movement of these northern owls makes its way south into the Puget Sound basin. This year, 2 have been reported in Vancouver, BC, and at least two more in Skagit County. No doubt others remain to be discovered.

This winter, we plan to radio-tag one of these birds and attempt to follow it north into Canada and discover its nesting area. Several years ago, we were able to follow one tagged adult back to its nesting area near Williams Lake, BC.

Padre Island Peregrine Survey

Over a century ago, a large movement of fall migrant peregrine falcons along the Texas gulf coast was described by ornithologists. Later, during the 1950’s, the late falconer, Colonel Luff Meredith, began to study what ultimately became the largest known peregrine migration in the world.

Every fall, thousands of peregrines move south along the coastal beaches of Texas en route to their winter territories in Latin America. Over the last 30 years, a team of falcon specialists has conducted a long-term study of these birds at South Padre Island, a barrier island off the coast of south Texas. The current leader of the team, Tom Maechtle, reports that the team has captured and banded approximately 8,000 peregrines at Padre during this period.

The Falcon Research Group is an active supporter of this effort. Bud Anderson often joins the fall effort as part of the FRG mission to support field research and the conservation of raptors. Last fall, during the 4-week period from 25 September to 25 October, the team caught 171 falcons and obtained blood samples from 150 individual birds for a study of West Nile Virus.

We plan to continue supporting the study in future years.

More on Long-billed Red-tailed Hawks

Six winters ago, Bud Anderson discovered a dead adult Red-tailed Hawk on the Samish Flats of Washington. The bird was emaciated and had obviously starved to death. Its beak had grown so long that the hawk could no longer open its mouth completely and feed in a normal manner. This condition was quite remarkable and had never been reported in Red-tails. We have put some photos of these birds on our website at http://www.frg.org . so you can see what they look like.

Since then, we have observed, captured or had reports of another 14 "long-billed" Red-tails in the northern Puget Sound area. Three of these (two with very long bills) have been reported this winter from Whidbey Island (Bob Merrick), the Samish Flats (Bob Merrick) and Seattle-Tacoma Airport (Bud Anderson). Last year, Dennis Ryan and Cindy Willis reported another bird from Whidbey Island whose upper beak was so long that it had crossed completely over the mandible. As I write this on 5 January, I have just received an e-mail from Sandy Gibbs reporting another long-bill from Camano Island.

To our knowledge, the condition appears to be limited to the Puget Sound Basin at this time. We have reports ranging north from the Fraser River Delta in British Columbia (1) to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in the south and from Whidbey Island (west) to Conway (east).

At present, we don’t know what causes this condition. Speculation has included environmental pollutants, cattle growth hormones, herbicides, viruses, fungi, dietary deficiencies, and acid rain. Whatever it is seems to cause the horn (keratin) covering of the bill to either grow faster or become harder thereby reducing what Dr. Steve Herman calls the "miracle of abrasion" in bird beaks.

We have only seen this condition in adult, not immature, Red-tails. This suggests that the long beak may take some time to develop, perhaps years. At present, we are also trying to determine if long bills occur in both resident and wintering Red-tails.

We would like to once again ask for your help in this investigation. During your hawk watching activities, please look closely at local Red-tails that you see. Try to examine their beaks (preferably in profile) and if you observe one of the "long-bills", please contact us with the date and location. It will help us define how extensive the problem is. Thanks in advance.

Two Peregrine Band Returns

Last summer on 1 June, Martin Muller and Bud Anderson banded an eyass Peregrine Falcon at a nest site in the San Juan Islands. During the fall migration study at Entiat Ridge on 7 September, Martin captured a juvenile peregrine, one of only three caught at the ridge last year. The falcon was already wearing a black VID band. When we checked, we found that it was the same nestling that he had banded 3 months earlier in the islands. The eyrie was 135 miles northwest of the banding station. Remarkable event.

In 2003, a new pair of peregrines started a nest on the I-90 Freeway Bridge at Mercer Island. With the permission of Mike McDonald and the Washington State Department of Transportation, we banded two young falcons on 10 June. One bird later fledged and landed below the bridge in Lake Washington, a potentially fatal situation. It either swam ashore or was rescued. We were notified, caught the bird and released her later in the day at the site. She flew off beautifully after her mishap.

On 10 December, this falcon was reported flying around the Portland International Airport, approximately 180 miles south by our colleague, Carol Hallet.

Winter Hawkwatching Classes

This winter, we will be holding two hawkwatching classes, one in Bellingham (Whatcom County Museum) and one in Mt. Vernon (Padilla Bay Interpretive Center). Bellingham will begin on Tuesday nights starting on 25 January at 7pm. Mt. Vernon will be held on Wednesday nights beginning on 26 January. Field trips will take place in early March. Please pass this information along to your friends, fellow birders and family.

To reserve your space for either class, please send a check for $135.00 to the Falcon Research Group at the above address.

Note: The Seattle class was already held in November last year.

Annual Dues

Your annual FRG dues for 2004 help support activities like those described in this newsletter. If you would like to contribute further to these efforts, please send $25.00 to the Falcon Research Group, Box 248, Bow, WA 98232. Thank you for your support.