Being a raptor trapper is very exciting for many reasons. Firstly, it is always a thrill not knowing what you will catch on any given day, and if you will catch anything at all. Nothing is guaranteed when you are trying to catch the apex predators of the food chain, and the challenge of trapping is almost as awesome as the reward of catching some of these amazing species. Secondly, the thrill of working with powerful birds that can seriously hurt you also provides a rush for me that I imagine is similar to what other adrenaline junkies seek. Albeit, I would rather this, then putting my life at risk for some crazy stunt. Well, I guess some people may think what I’m doing is crazy, but I would call it a passion for a group of birds that I really care about and want to continue to study and conserve! Now, after that rhetoric, you must be thinking I hope there is some new exciting news from the raptor trapping project, and if you were assuming that, then you are correct!
Since April 5th, we have added 17 new birds and 3 new species for the season. Lets do a quick recap of the past few days. April 5th was a great day with great weather as we managed to capture 6 birds. 2 Red-tailed hawks, 2 Sharp-shinned hawks, and our first of the season Merlin and Cooper’s hawk. For those of you that don’t know the Cooper’s hawk is the hawk, you are most likely will see attacking your feeder birds throughout the winter and is quite common in urban areas. They are characterized by their short wings and long tail, which helps them maneuver when hunting and allows them to be quite good at catching other smaller songbirds. They are among one of the three species that belong to the group of hawks known as the accipiter’s. The other two species are the smaller Sharp-shinned hawk and the biggest of the three being the Northern goshawk. The Merlin, on the other hand, is a small falcon that has long-pointed wings, and they are designed for speed in open space. They are quite aggressive and aren’t much bigger than your backyard robin, but they are quite the formidable predator for their size and are very aggressive, and watching them hunt is truly incredible!
Following the excitement on the 5th, on the 6th were didn’t have the greatest day but still caught 2 adult red-tailed hawks despite it being very cloudy and not conducive for hawk migration. It should be noted that this, as of right now this is our most commonly caught species, and I’m totally ok with that! Each of these birds displays such uniqueness among each individual’s plumage, and seeing so many up close is extremely cool to take note of and document. I will show variation among these birds as the season progresses, and I accumulate more photos.
On the 7th, I went out with high hopes and optimism as I do each day, but on this day, we were only able to trap for a few hours as I battled the scattered showers that kept starting and then suddenly stopping. It was as if someone was playing a prank on me, and one that I nor anyone would find funny. Then on the 8th, the weather decided to cooperate, and another five birds were banded—this time, two sharp-shins and two red-tails. I was very excited and happy with how this day went. Any day that I’m not skunked is a success for a trapper. Then on the 9th, this was another great day for many reasons. As I braved the snow flurries that hammered the blind off and on, I knew that if I could stick it out that I will surely be rewarded for braving the elements, and I was! That bird turned out to be a Northern Harrier. An elusive bird that is more prevalent in marshes/grasslands and aptly used to be referred to as a “Bog Trotter” a name I still love!
Now, harriers are an exciting group of birds as this harrier species is the only species of its genus “Circus” found in North America even though this genus is found globally. The harriers’ best field mark is the white upper tail coverts often seen best when the bird is flying at a lower level and is often referred to as the white-rump. They are also distinguishable by flight style as they seem to tip or teeter from side to side like a vulture but are thinner in shape. That being said, they can be tough to ID at times, and I often have mistaken them for other species, because depending on what they are doing in flight, they can look similar to other groups of raptors. Today we were once again shut down early due to strong winds which don’t make it ideal to trap but regardless, I still managed 1 Sharp-shinned hawk. Tomorrow looks excellent, and I am excited as always to get back up there bright and early. As always, I will keep all of you fine folks posted on all the news from this project, stay classy!
Spring 2020 Raptor Trapping Totals:
1 NOHA (Northern Harrier)
1 MERL (Merlin)
1 COHA (Cooper’s Hawk)
10 SSHA (Sharp-shinned Hawk)
25 RTHA (Red-Tailed Hawk)
1 RSHA (Red-shouldered Hawk)
1 RLHA (Rough-Legged Hawk)
Total Birds: 40