A Bird in the Hand

My previous post touched on American kestrels (Falco sparverius), highlighting a group of babies that were just hatched. Now those little chicks have grown up, with the feisty attitudes to prove it. Three weeks from hatching and they are almost ready to fledge. A few days ago I got to visit successful nest boxes in the Pioneer Valley and help a licensed bird bander attach bands to the little teenagers before they leave the nest for good.

Earlier in June this kestrel baby still wears much of his down and the primaries, or adult feathers, are just starting to develop. His talons, on the other hand, have become very long and sharp, showing the signs that this young bird will grow up to be a fierce hunter.

Bird banding is a process by which a small, lightweight band is placed around a bird’s ankle to identify it later. Birds that are banded and recaptured have their individual ID numbers recorded, and a database tracking the bird’s movement can be updated, helping scientists and ornithologists answer questions about bird population dynamics. Each of the five chicks from the previous post has reached banding age, and all received their bands last week. This Fourth of July really will be Independence Day for these chicks, as they are expected to fledge this week.

Banding time! A young kestrel with the last of his baby down feathers, almost ready to leave the nest. While the male shown here has blue-grey feathers on his back and wings, the female would be mostly brown and black. This bird and all his siblings were banded last week.

Banding doesn’t hurt birds or impact their ability to fly. Banders are issued licenses from the state and often have lots of practice working with birds. The “bander’s grip” is a special hold that has been developed to keep the bander and the bird safe during the process. While the kestrels struggled with us while we were banding, they were just doing what they should do, protecting themselves from home invaders, fighting tooth (or beak) and nail to be left in their box. With some shrieking calls and a few scratches we successfully banded fifteen baby birds, with the hope that the data we collected will reinforce the importance of conservation efforts in Massachusetts and throughout the United States.

To learn more about the American kestrel, see my previous post: Bird Babies





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