More RCW Banding

The red-cockaded woodpecker nesting season is dying down, and all the babies are starting to fly away. Here are some pictures, taken by myself, fellow intern Ashley and high school intern Katie, of the climbing/banding process.

Here I am starting to climb up the tree. I’ll go up another rung to where I can reach the bracket (just above my head on the ladder, against the tree) and then I’ll wrap a chain around the tree to secure the ladder. The ladders are in 10ft and 5ft segments, and have tongues on the ends to attach them together to whatever height we need. The highest I’ve ever had to climb was 30ft, or 3 10ft ladders.

At the cavity, getting ready to remove the chicks. The rubber tubing is my noose, which I stick in the cavity and use to grab the nestlings.

Hanging out 30ft above the ground. The view is generally pretty nice from up there.

Our banding kit. We put aluminum bands with unique numbers on each nestling, and also a unique combination of colored plastic bands. This is so we can later identify the birds without having to catch them again to read the tiny numbers on their legs. With binoculars or a spotting scope, you can sometimes (if the birds cooperate and permit you a good view of their legs) read the color combination.

This nestling has color bands yellow/white/yellow on its left leg, and an aluminum band/light green (which you can’t really see in this picture) on its right.

Two RCW nestlings, about 9 or 10 days old. Their eyes have just opened, and their feathers are starting to poke out along their wings and tails. The one on the right was feisty, and liked showing off his legs.

This chick was old, probably 11 or 12 days old. We generally try to band them between 7 and 11 days old, because they don’t have so many feathers for us to accidentally pull out. Also, it’s generally easier to get them before their eyes are open, because they’re not quite as aware of what’s going on and can’t see the noose and try to get out of the way.

Right leg: orange/light green/orange.
Left leg: aluminum/light green.

I like banding older chicks because their legs are bigger and it’s easier to get all the bands on, but, being older, they’ve figured out how to use all their body parts and with more actively struggle. This guy here has mastered his feet, and would grab our fingers. The younger birds, especially before their eyes are open, can barely stay upright in your hand.

Since most of our birds have finished nesting (we have about 128 nests) we are now starting our early morning cluster checks. This means we station ourselves by trees we think may be active (which means the woodpeckers are using them) before sunrise and wait to see if any RCW’s come out. We do this to see if the cluster has a potential breeding pair which just didn’t nest. Typically the birds will come out and then chat a little with their mate, who roosts in a different cavity, before heading out to look for breakfast. The real fun part (other than getting up at 5 a.m. to be in the woods before sunrise) is then following them around for an hour or so, to see if they lead us to nestlings or a new nesting cavity. We have spotting scopes (telescopes on tripods) that we use to see the colored bands, and we carry those around with us as we traipse around after the birds. It’s not too bad, if you don’t mind waking up really early and then chasing after birds in the woods. Which I don’t. Birds are one of the only things I’ll wake up before sunrise for. The others are traveling and rock climbing. Sometimes.

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