January 1, 2006

2006 Winter Bulletin

The Passing of Bell

For many years, thousands of people watched the events at the Washington Mutual Tower in Seattle as two peregrines raised their young on a high ledge of the building. The female was named Bell and she was an amazing bird. She enthralled so many people with her beauty, her grace and even her ferocity. Her image went all over the world via the Internet (it was the first live peregrine nest-cam) thanks to Mark Prostor and the many people at the Washington Mutual Tower , including Ray Congdon, Denise Kolb and Jeff Kasowski. She became an unofficial mascot of the city and a regular feature on local TV stations each spring and summer. Literally thousands of people in Seattle saw her live on the TV monitor in the lobby of the Washington Mutual Bank on Third Avenue , thanks to manager Bob Strauss. She became one of the most studied peregrines in the world as a dedicated team of volunteers led by Ruth Taylor video-taped her behavior in detail every year. A popular children’s book was written by Linda Birman about Stewart, her mate.

Bell first showed up at the Bank in August 1994 and remained there for ten years. She and Stewart produced a total of 26 fledglings (2.6 young per year), raising young in eight of the ten years.

From banding records, we know that her offspring dispersed as far south as Los Angeles and Portland and north to Vancouver , BC . Several others remained in the local area.

One of her 2001 offspring, a male, is currently breeding on the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge, not far from WAMU. Another of her young, a 2002 male (E-7), bred on Mercer Island for two years, producing 5 young. Still another 2000 female (SY) bred in the San Juan Islands but was killed by a Raccoon, apparently while defending her young in 2004. A “grandson” is now living on the Ballard Bridge.

Bell last nested in 2004 when she raised her final four young. She disappeared shortly thereafter, presumably after the death of Stewart in 2003. Last summer, on 27 July 2005 , Ruth Taylor confirmed that a banded peregrine found dead on top of the Watermark Tower in Seattle was indeed Bell . Her cause of death was unknown.

We all have a certain number of years to live and to contribute to life. Bell had her number and what a wonderful contribution she made to literally thousands of children and adults as she taught us all about the beauty and magnificence of peregrines right in our own backyard. She was an exceptional falcon.

Long-billed Hawk Update

The long-bill syndrome causes accelerated and often grotesque growth in the beaks of birds, eventually resulting in starvation. We now have 105 records of long-billed raptors including Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, a Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Crested Caracara, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. The majority of records involve Red-tails in western Washington . New reports are coming in almost weekly.

We are continuing to publicize the syndrome to raise awareness of the problem. I have given presentations to the annual Raptor Research Foundation meeting, the Wildlife Society, the Washington Rehabilitation Council and Audubon chapters in Bellingham , Mt. Vernon , San Juan Island , Seattle and Olympia . I will present a paper at the national meeting of wildlife rehabilitators in March in California.

We have been consulting with several experts on the condition in an attempt to discover its cause. In January, the worlds’ leading raptor veterinarian, Dr. Pat Redig, at the University of Minnesota , agreed to look at the histopathology of the keratin-producing cells in long-bills. I regard this as a major step forward.

The syndrome also appears to be spreading to other bird species in our state and elsewhere. We have received reports of long-billed American Crows, Glaucous-winged Gulls, European Starlings, Northern Flickers, a Steller’s Jay, a Bewick’s Wren, and a Common Murre, all from Washington.

Working in association with USGS biologist Colleen Handel and Michigan passerine bander, Julie Craves, we have now documented the long-billed syndrome in over 110 North American species of birds, primarily passerines. Records range from Florida to Baja California , Alaska to Maine and several provinces in Canada . There are also records from Europe , South Africa and Argentina . Of course, it is not known if all of these examples are caused by the same phenomenon.

You can help by being aware of the syndrome and reporting any birds that you see that have long-bills. Keep in mind it is no longer limited to just hawks.

The Entiat Ridge 2005 Fall Hawk Migration

We had a record season at Entiat Ridge last fall. Our team banded 349 birds of prey over the 6 week study period (28 August-15 October). We caught 10 species of raptors including 3 Northern Harriers, 206 Sharp-shinned Hawks (record), 71 Cooper’s Hawks (record), 7 Northern Goshawks, 14 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Golden Eagle, 12 American Kestrels, 28 Merlins (record), 1 Peregrine Falcon and 6 Prairie Falcons (record).

We want to thank the Longview Fibre Company for permission to conduct our study on their land. In particular, we would like to extend our appreciation to Jim McCracken, Steve Tift, and Ron Simon.

The Entiat Ridge Experimental Hawk Banding Station is an entirely volunteer-driven project and would simply not have been possible without the support, dedication, hard work (and gas money) of the following 25 people;

Rik and Nora Adams, Gretchen Albrecht, Carolyn Brannen, Kelly Cordell, Ray Cruz, Ed Deal, John Deliduka, Mike and Vicki Elledge, Mark Gleason, Vivian Gross, Kathy Gunther, Karen Haire, Sue Hindman, Dalene Keith, Pat Little, Marti Louther, Megan Lyden, Don McCall, Martin Muller, Von Pope, Emma Lux, Melissa Sherwood, and Jim Shiflett.

A detailed report of our results at Entiat Ridge over the last 5 years can be found on our website at http://www.frg.org.

Annual Skagit Flats Hawk Census

The Skagit Hawk Count will take place this year on Saturday 11 February ( 9-11 am ). Bob Merrick has passed the coordination of the census on to Roger Johnson (360) 856-0870 in Sedro Woolley and Ed Deal (206) 723-4742 in Seattle, so, team leaders, please make note of these new contact numbers.

I thank Bob for his many years of gracious administration of the count, his humor, efficiency and wonderful generosity of spirit. You are appreciated greatly.

Hawk Watching Classes

I will be teaching the introductory course, Hawkwatching in Western Washington in Mt. Vernon and Bellingham this winter. Since most of you have already taken this class, please pass the information along to your friends. It runs 5 weeks, one night a week, plus the usual day-long field trip. Cost remains $135.00. To register, please send a check to the FRG, Box 248 , Bow , WA , 98232. For more information, please contact Bud Anderson at (360) 757-1911 or his e-mail bud@frg.org.

Class Schedules:

- Bellingham Class (Whatcom Museum) -- 31 Jan. - 28 February 2007
Tuesdays 7:00-9:30 PM

- Mt. Vernon Class (Padilla Bay Center) -- 2 February - 2 March 2007
Thursdays 7:00-9:30 PM

The Merlin Saga Continues...

Until recently, little was known about Merlins nesting in our state since historic breeding records are almost non-existent. This situation changed dramatically in 2000 when Merlins suddenly moved into Bellingham and nested in a residential part of town. Since then, the breeding population has expanded into several other cities, including Mt. Vernon , Anacortes, Stanwood, Marysville, and Lake Stevens . In addition, there are two current breeding records from eastern Washington.

In 2005, Kevin Mack reported a recently fledged Merlin (with down still on its head) that was rescued from a bucket of water in Lynnwood . It had apparently been trying to bathe. This indicates that Merlins were breeding in the Lynnwood area in 2005.

We also received several sightings of Merlins in Seattle last summer. Most were from the Ballard and Wedgewood areas. We have long suspected that Merlins are breeding in town but this remains to be confirmed.

As Merlins continue their expansion south, it is just a matter of time before they become a Seattle resident. Give us a call should you encounter them.

San Juan Peregrines

We’ve been studying the San Juan Island peregrine population since 1976. Over the years, we have documented their recovery as the post-DDT number of pairs increased from 0 in 1976 to 20 in 2002. Since 1995, our team has been banding the young at these nests in an attempt to learn more about their dispersal, movements and site fidelity. To date, through the extraordinary efforts of our peregrine climbing team (Martin Muller, Ed Deal, Kathy Gunther, Mark Prostor and Wendy Gibble), we have banded 220 San Juan eyasses (nestlings). Last summer, we observed an unexpected and severe reduction in productivity among the island peregrines. Of the 20 known pairs, only 5 produced young, a 75% failure rate, and the highest we have observed thus far. In a normal year, we will generally have failures at 3-5 sites. In some cases, we have been able to determine the causes of these failures. They are usually related to the weather (rainwater in the nest) or predation (raccoons/fox). Unfortunately, we do not know what caused the majority of failures in 2005. It may have been caused by an exceptionally wet spring (if rain saturates the nest scrape, it kills the eggs). But failure may also have been caused by other factors (e.g. pollutants) although we have no direct evidence of this at this time. We will continue to monitor the pairs again this summer.

Urban Peregrines

Breeding peregrines have successfully “colonized” most major cities on the west coast of North America . Here in western Washington , they currently nest in Everett, Seattle (4 pairs), Mercer Island , Tacoma (3 pairs), Bremerton and Olympia . Ed Deal reports two more new pairs now forming in Seattle.

Last summer, we banded 10 chicks at 4 of these sites, 3 nests in Seattle and 1 in Tacoma . Pairs failed in Seattle (1), Olympia (1), Mercer Island (1) and Everett (1).

We’d like to especially acknowledge the assistance of the Washington State Department of Transportation in banding falcon chicks on local bridges.

Everett Ospreys

Everett Harbor supports the densest known concentration of breeding Ospreys in Washington . Discovered by Ed Schulz in the 1990’s, the harbor has approximately 26 pairs nesting on pilings and “dolphins” (multiple pilings lashed together).

We began banding young at Everett in 2002. Over three seasons, we banded 38 (2002), 23 (2003) and 35 (2005) young, or a total of 96 nestlings. To date, we have received only one band return from the west coast of Mexico.

This year, with assistance from Ed, we also relocated two Osprey chicks from a cell tower nest at Sea-Tac to two different wild nests in Everett . The purpose was to move these young safely away from the nearby approach pattern of jet aircraft.

Sea-Tac Bird Strike Program

The FRG began working with Port of Seattle Biologist , Steve Osmek, in June 2001. We developed a raptor management program to address the issue of potential hawk strikes at Sea-Tac. Our primary goal was to identify and relocate any transient hawks that occurred at the airport. The program has proven to be successful. So far, we have captured 122 raptors at the airport, including 77 Red-tailed Hawks, 22 American Kestrels, 14 Coopers Hawks, 3 Great Horned Owls, 3 Ospreys, 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks and one Peregrine Falcon. The majority of these birds (immature Red-tails) were relocated to the Samish Flats area 75 miles north of the runways. Their naiveté around jet aircraft makes them more vulnerable to strikes. To date, none of the relocated raptors are known to have returned to Sea-Tac. We presented a paper summarizing our Sea-Tac methods and results at the National BirdStrike Conference in Vancouver , BC , last summer.

Annual Dues

It is once again time to send in your dues and donations. Dues of $25 per year ensure notification of FRG events, classes and this newsletter. Donations are warmly welcomed to underwrite these and other FRG research programs. Thank you for your support.

A Final Note

The FRG is staffed almost entirely by a group of very dedicated volunteers. I wanted to say thank you to everyone (named and unnamed) and let you know that I deeply appreciate your efforts. You are very important to the successful operation of the organization as you can clearly see from the work described in this newsletter.

If any of you have any questions about hawks or the FRG, I look forward to hearing from you in the future.


Bud Andersen
FRG President