Thursday, September 19, 2013

'Tails' from a Braddock Bay banding station....

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk - Braddock Bay Raptor Research
Although Braddock Bay, the destination for the forthcoming HMANA Raptor ID Workshop (link here), is best known for spring migration and raptor banding it also annually tracks the movement of dispersing hawks in the late summer, when the Braddock Bay Raptor Research (website here) open their nets again to band mainly young Red-tailed Hawks. As a hawkwatcher, it has always amused me that whilst watching many birds heading south in fall Braddock Bay is still catching the northbound movements of these young birds.

Recently an incredible story of one of these juvenile Red-tailed Hawks reached us at Braddock Bay via Jeff Bouton. Back then he was a bander extraordinaire with Braddock Bay Raptor Research and Braddock Bay Bird Observatory though now he is probably best known to most of you as the birding expert at Leica Sport Optics. Anyway, all the way back on the 3rd of September 1991 Jeff banded a Red-tailed Hawk at Braddock Bay, as part of the annual late summer juvenile Red-tailed Hawk movement. Recently, 22 years later, Jeff received word that the band from that bird was recovered in Pennsylvania after the bird had been found dead. Though somewhat sad, for a hawk that is a pretty good run and in fact this makes it one of the 10 oldest wild Red-tailed Hawks on record. 
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk - Jeff Bouton
Jeff noted in his message that the day they banded the bird was not a particularly exceptional day for raptors at Braddock as they had captured and banded a mere 10 Red-tailed Hawks. To me that seems pretty good, but then we are comparing it to the kind of days where well over 100 birds have been banded at the Braddock Bay stations. As Jeff noted in his message to BBRR though:  

"...One of those 10 birds however would turn out to be exceptional. One of the largest birds of the day, which took the largest band size acceptable for the species (7D), was just reported found dead near Marion Center, PA. This means the bird lived over 22 years in the wild and makes it the 10th oldest wild Red-tailed Hawk on record!"

Though the above photo of Jeff was taken at the time, it probably isn't of the bird in question as Jeff reckons it to be a little too small. To me it's incredible to imagine this tenacious bird staking out its territory and surviving quite so long in the wild. Out of interest Marion Center, PA is about 250 miles south from Braddock Bay so the bird obviously did a little more wandering before settling down. Data like this shows the continued value of raptor banding. The USGS page on Longevity Records for North American Birds provides a useful educational tool when people ask those inevitable 'how long do they live' type questions about raptors, or any other birds for that matter (visit their page here).

"Mr Grumpy Pants" - Luke Tiller
Coincidentally one of the oldest Red-tailed Hawks in captivity is held by Anne and Paul Schnell. Anne is co-director and heads up the banding efforts at Braddock Bay Raptor Research. Anne and her husband Paul have educational birds and Pauls birds are a major part of the BBRR's educational and outreach events. Their 35 year old Red-tailed Hawk, affectionately called 'Mr Grumpy Pants' still gets called in for publicity duty and my first season at Braddock Bay I ended up posing in the snow alongside Mr Grumpy Pants for the cover of the local newspaper. Grumpy was born in 1978 and is an imprint, as a result of being fed by hand once removed from his nest. As far as I can ascertain, the oldest recorded captive bird died at 36 and a 1/2 years


  1. I don't agree that giving us some idea of how old raptors live to be in the wild is of much value (we can ascertain that from other means)or is any justification for banding.

    1. Hi Anonymous, Out of interest, how would you suggest that we age birds? As far as I am aware cutting them in half and counting the rings only works in trees ;) In your opinion what would be justifications for banding - or do you not see any?