Field notes by Cheryl Dykstra, co-editor of Urban Raptors
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Cincinnati, Ohio

Today was the first day of this year for banding nestling red-shouldered hawks in our suburban study area in Cincinnati, Ohio. Even after 21 years and more than 2,500 nestling hawks banded, the first day is still fun, full of promise, and excitement.

The first nest is in a sycamore in a suburban backyard, like a lot of our nests. Jeff is the best tree-climber on our team, and he quickly makes his way up to this challenging nest. 


Ann and I set up the banding gear on a tarp on the lawn in the shade because the afternoon is sunny and nearly 80 degrees.


With seven or eight landowners and neighbors looking on, we band the young with aluminum USGS bands on one leg and an orange color band on the other.


We measure the first and second secondary to determine the approximate age; this brood of four young range in age from 1.5 – 2.5 weeks.


We have a grad student studying extra-pair paternity this year, so in addition to banding, weighing, and measuring the young, we need to get blood samples from the nestlings and both parents if possible.


The nestlings, all banded and sampled, rest on the tarp before being returned to their nest.


I place the nestlings in a canvas bag to return them to the nest, where Jeff has been waiting.


At nest site number two, just a couple miles from the first nest, we are happy to see that the male we banded and took a blood sample from in March is still at the nest. From a photo, we read his band as Orange P4 Right.


We put out a trap for the female, but she is uninterested; we’ll have to come back and try to trap her in the next couple weeks. Jeff climbs the nest tree, another sycamore in another backyard. We get our blood samples from the two young in this brood, both approximately two weeks old, and get the USGS bands on, but then it starts to drizzle and we hear thunder rumbling as the expected storms roll in. We abort the rest of the measurements and the color-banding, in order to get the young back to their nest so a parent can keep them dry (and to get our climber Jeff back down out of the tree).


Dodging rain showers for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, we manage to trap two adult hawks: a female at one nest site and a male at another site. Our trap is a new bal-chatri, and we’re pretty pleased with how it performs: both these birds get caught almost as soon as they come down to the trap.


We run to the trap, and then gently disentangle the hawk’s legs and toes from the nooses; an interested landowner documents our work. Rain starts up again as we are working on the female, really pouring this time; we are able to take her blood sample, and get the bands on, but we forgo the measurements and turn her loose. After we collect our wet gear and stow it in the vehicle, we check the nest (with binoculars from the ground).


We’re happy to see that one of the adults is on the nest, protecting the nestlings from the pelting rain. By the time we get to the next site and trap the male, the rain is over, and we are able to complete the banding, blood sample, and all the measurements. More landowners and neighbors gather to watch our work here; most are interested and supportive—it’s nice when residents are enthusiastic about raptors and we enjoy telling them about the birds and our research.

All in all, a successful first banding day, 2018.