How to Band a Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

First, peep the cavity to make sure the young woodpeckers are in fact still in there, and have not had some horrible fate befall them, like being eaten by a snake. They will probably think that what you are about to do to them will be pretty horrible, but they’ll get over it.

You’re about to snatch them from their home, the only place they have ever seen in their entire lives, jostle them around, pull them out into the bright light and put some colored bits of plastic and aluminum on their tiny legs. You will then put them back into their cavity without eating them, but they don’t know that yet.

Peeping the cavity with the peeper, a camera on a telescoping pole. 


Next, you assemble your equipment: a climbing harness, short lengths of rope (to go around the tree), ladders, and your banding vest with a nestling pouch, gloves (to keep your hands from becoming encrusted with sap during the climb up), and corn starch (to de-stickify your hands so the baby RCW’s don’t adhere to your fingers). A hat or bandanna to keep the sap out of your hair is also a good idea.
Set the ladder against the tree, put your rope around the tree and attach it to your harness, and begin climbing. If the cavity is taller than 10 feet (the height of one ladder) you will have to use multiple ladders. This can be done by climbing to the top of the first ladder, and then having your ground crew (or your boss, who is watching you from the ground to make sure you don’t mess up) pass you up the second, which attaches to the top of the first. Each ladder has a chain that is wrapped around the tree and secured, so there is no danger of the ladders getting tired and deciding to head down to the ground without you.
Climbing up the tree.


The rope is attached to your harness and is wrapped around the tree. As you climb the ladder, move the rope up the tree with you.
At the cavity, getting ready to take out the nestlings.


Climb to the cavity and remove the nestlings (easier said than done. Let’s just say it’s like blind fishing). Put them in the nestling pouch around your neck. Be sure to sling it over your shoulder for the climb down so you don’t accidentally bump the nestlings against the ladder.
8 day old red-cockaded woodpecker nestling. 

Once safely on the ground, let the banding commence! On the left leg, each bird gets an aluminum band with a unique number and a colored plastic band. On the right leg, each bird gets a unique color combination of plastic bands (such as striped, dark green, orange– not a combination I’ve used so far, but I’m sure it’ll be used someday). This allows for identification of the individual without having to catch the bird and read the tiny number off the aluminum band. It’s much easier for both observer and observee if the biologist can use a spotting scope to read the color combinations from a distance.

Making sure to put the correct combination of bands on the chick is important, because those bands are not exactly easy to remove if they’re on in the wrong order.
Putting on the colored bands.
Climb back up the tree and plop the nestlings back into the cavity. Then climb back down, un-chaining the ladder as you do. Then gather up everything, put it in the truck, and head off to the next tree to climb.
Left leg with dark green colored band and aluminum band. 
Putting the babies safely back into their cavity. 
Oh yes, and don’t forget to have someone take lots of pictures of you during the whole process. That’s the whole point of this process, to have pictures of you doing something cool. Studying an endangered species is just a minor detail. 

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