Southeastern Kestrel Management on Fort Polk

In 1992, Fort Polk banded its first juvenile kestrels, which were from a nest located in an enlarged RCW cavity. The kestrel nest tree was within 100 feet of an RCW nest tree, which indicates that RCWs and SAKs prefer the same type of nesting habitat. Both the RCW and kestrel had successful nests and fledged chicks.

The SAK often hunts over large openings in the forest. Fort Polk has a large number of openings in the forest, called firing ranges that are utilized by the SAK for hunting. Our most successful nest boxes are located on the edge or near firing ranges. Another favorite habitat on Fort Polk is Longleaf pine seedtree stands that have approximately 20 mature pine trees per acre. On Fort Polk, we thin our pine stands down to a basal area of 60, sometimes lower, and we have a three-year rotational prescribed fire program. Not only does this habitat management benefit the SAK and RCW, it also benefits other species of concern including Bachman’s and Henslow’s Sparrows, and the rare Louisiana Pine Snake.

Since 1993, we have placed 20-25 SAK nest boxes on Fort Polk. The boxes are placed 20 feet above the ground on pine trees. It is very important that a snag or telephone lines are located near the nest boxes; the SAK uses them for perching and hunting. Our nest boxes usually have 5-6 successful nests a year, producing 3-4 young each. In addition to our nest boxes, we usually find 3-6 nests located in natural cavities each year. Nearly all the nests are found in enlarged RCW cavities located in living or dead cavity trees. All chicks are banded with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife aluminum band and a combination of color bands. There is a lot of competition for the nest boxes from other bird species and squirrels. We usually have more Eastern Screech Owl nests than SAK nests. We have also found Great-crested Flycatchers, Tufted Titmice, and Eastern Bluebirds nesting in our boxes. If we find other bird species using the boxes, we leave them alone, but Fox Squirrels and Southern Flying Squirrels are removed. Flying squirrels are a big problem. It is not uncommon to find 4-8 flying squirrels occupying a nest box. The number one nest predator on nesting SAKs is the Texas Rat Snake, a great tree climber. We have found adults, young, and eggs consumed by the rat snake. To limit predation, we place aluminum sheeting (4 ft. wide) at the base of each nest box tree. The slick aluminum prevents the snake from climbing the trees and reaching the nest boxes.

With proper management, SAK populations should remain stable and possibly increase in the future on federal lands, including Fort Polk and National Forest Service lands. It is critical that regular prescribed fires and timber thinning continue into the future. Not only is this necessary for maintaining healthy populations of SAK, but for other rare species that share its habitat.

Contributed by: Kenneth Moore

Also by Kenneth Moore: Southeastern American Kestrel in Louisiana

Solitary Eagle’s Nest Discovered in Belize:Part 2

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To travel horizontally, a static soaring bird must descend and subsequently ascend using convective currents as an elevator, often in a slow cyclic pattern. The bird will enter a rising column of air at the bottom, ascend to the upper limits of the thermal, and then set its wings in a shallow, descending glide slope to move a linear distance. When the bird exhausts the momentum of its descent or nears the ground, it must intersect the bottom of another thermal to gain height and repeat the process. A bird that travels in this manner may have to work many thermals in succession in order to travel great distances across the landscape. Thus, soaring birds are keenly aware of the location, timing and prospect of air currents in their home territories; they will often use the same geological features or localities known to produce such currents and exploit them as “aerial highways”.

Two primary air currents used by the male Solitary Eagle–one an updraft and the other a downdraft–straddled the Orange-breasted Falcon hack site on opposite sides. The hack site was positioned on a peninsular, highland ridge, directly overlooking an unnamed river at the height of 2,000+ vertical feet, not far from Thousand Foot Falls, a popular tourist attraction. The eagle would ascend from the north, often carrying prey, soar directly over the hack site, and then descend the opposite side to the south in order to intersect another thermal further down the river valley. This initial descent, so near to the observation blind, gave one the impression that the eagle was “landing” in the forest directly below the hack site. Such a conclusion would be a mistake and is precisely the reason this particular Solitary Eagle’s nest went undiscovered for nearly a decade. Previous raptor biologists had erroneously searched for the nest in the forested slopes of this southern drop zone.

Only a person who could correctly interpret the eagle’s flight patterns would be able to ascertain a final descending glide into a nest. When a soaring bird is truly landing, it will stiffly set its wings, rotate the feet forward, angle the head and body toward the intended perch and glide in a fast, direct fashion. It will not ascend lazily into the air again. Once the general landing area of the food-carrying male eagle was defined, it was a simple matter of setting up surveillance points along its route of travel to pinpoint the nest location. The Peregrine Fund attendants manned three observation points that intercepted the eagle’s trajectory for four days before locating the actual nest tree.

The male Solitary Eagle was first seen at the hack site on 7 June 2011, the day the attendants arrived to prepare the hack tower for the Orange-breasted Falcon release. Regular sightings occurred at the hack site every two- three days thereafter between 1000 and 1500 hours, when wind and thermal activity was at its peak. After two weeks of continuous observation, surveillance points were marked along the eagle’s known flight path by 27 June 2011, and sightings began to occur daily, as the attendants drew closer and closer to the nest. Roni Martinez was invited by the author at that time to assist in the search–after the general nest location and flight path were known–to help the hack site attendants monitor surveillance points with an “extra set of eyes”. As a native conservation officer, Roni was also needed to negotiate passage through a military weapons training area adjacent to the suspected nest site, as it was decidedly foolish for American foreigners to be caught trespassing across this dangerous, and possibly restricted, zone without permission.

Continued in Part 3

Article contributed by Stacia A. Novy

Photo: The Peregrine Fund Crew

Caption: The “Solitary Eagle Search Team” employed by The Peregrine Fund,
Boise, Idaho

Solitary Eagle’s Nest Discovered in Belize:Part 3

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On the morning of discovery, Stacia, Matt, Audrey and Roni hiked across the military exercise area, northwest of Baldy Beacon, to access a new observation point that was closest to the predicted nest location. Roni brought along a spotting scope, while Stacia draped a trusted, high-powered 10 X 50 Swarovski binocular about her neck. The Peregrine Fund owned a Zeiss spotting scope, but theirs was needed for observations back at the Orange-breasted Falcon release site, which Camille and Jon were scheduled to manage that day. Therefore, Roni had to bring his own scope for use in the field, as the attendants’ scope was not available. The three hack site attendants indicated the hillside of greatest interest to Roni: a thickly forested slope that had shown the greatest amount of eagle activity while under observation and, thus, most likely to contain the nest. Roni scanned the slope with the spotting scope and just happened to see the male Solitary Eagle swoop in carrying a yellow snake at that precise moment. Roni later exclaimed that he “never would have seen the eagle against the dark backdrop of trees if the snake hadn’t been so brightly colored”.

However, the scope had so narrow an angle of view that the position of any tree on such a distant hillside could not be determined. All Roni could see was the tree, and the tree was so far away that it could not be seen with the naked eye. Roni wrung his hands and nervously paced back and forth in the field, shouting, “Don’t touch the scope! Nobody touch the scope!” Even the slightest tilt of the lens would have offset the view and the marked tree would have been lost in a fuzzy sea of green. So, the author performed an old falconry trick: she calmly placed her wide-angled binocular on top of the telescope lens barrel to view the nest tree with all the distinctive landmarks around it. With those features in mind, the author was able to lead Matt and Roni through the rough, forested terrain until they got close enough to see the actual nest.

This same method works with trained falconry birds as they will tighten their body conformation and fixate their eyes on quarry before launching an attack, most likely to triangulate a position. Before the hunting hawk flies off the fist, the falconer can place a binocular on the bird’s head to see what it is looking at. Since birds-of-prey possess binocular vision–as do humans and manufactured optics–the technique works. It is commonly used throughout the falconry community both in North America and abroad. Audrey remained behind at the final observation point, but watched the three others progress to the nest tree through the spotting scope. When the nest was finally found, the good news was radioed back to Jon and Camille, as they were a part of the original “Peregrine Fund Solitary Eagle Search Team”, but could not participate on the day of discovery.

As The Peregrine Fund/World Center for Birds of Prey was the first organization to document the presence of Solitary Eagles in the region so long ago, it seems a fitting conclusion that subsequent employees of that same organization confirmed the first breeding record for the country of Belize 22 years later. Following on the heels of this phenomenal find, the South American and North American classification committees of the American Ornithologists’ Union recently agreed to subsume the Solitary Eagle’s old genus Harpyhaliaetus, into the genus Buteogallus. Recent DNA studies have confirmed that the Solitary Eagle is so closely related to the Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) and Great Black Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga) that reclassification is warranted.

Editor’s Note: This is not the first time the author has located a rare raptor. In 1996, while working for The Peregrine Fund on an Aplomado Falcon repatriation project in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Texas, she discovered a Collared Forest-Falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus). It was the first record of that tropical species for Laguna Atascosa NWR and was documented in their archives.

Article contributed by Stacia A. Novy

Photo Title: Peregrine Fund Vehicle
Caption: “The author returns after a successful day of searching for the
Solitary Eagle’s nest”

Practice Makes Perfect for Nest-Building Weavers

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It has long been assumed that the nest building skills of birds are instinctive, but new research has revealed that building a nest could very well be a learned skill. Following and filming the activities of male Southern Masked Weavers in Botswana over a period of three months, researchers noted that not all nests are created equal. As the name of the bird suggests, Southern Masked Weavers use a weaving technique when constructing their nests from local grasses. However, the method of nest building varied between birds with some weaving from left to right and others weaving from right to left. It was also noted that they appeared to learn from their mistakes, and while a bird may regularly drop blades of grass when it first starts its nest building process, it soon learns to adjust its technique to prevent this.

The brightly colored African bird was chosen as the test subject for the study for a number of reasons. Their complex nests which hang from trees either as single units or multiple intertwined condominiums are seen as evidence of above average intelligence. Also, a single bird will build several nests in a season, allowing the research team to note the differences in nests built by the same bird.

Working with scientists from Botswana, researchers from the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow noted that the fact that the Southern Masked Weaver birds displayed marked variations in their approach to nest building reveals that they may learn from experience. At this point, however, it is not clear whether they have the mental capacity to learn, or their improvement in skills can be attributed to repetition of a task. Researchers also pointed out that observing this behavior in one bird species does not imply that it would apply to all birds. One of the scientists taking part in the study, Dr. Patrick Walsh of Edinburgh University’s School of Biological Sciences, noted that if birds built their nests instinctively according to a genetic template, it would follow that all birds would build all their nests in the same way every time, but this has not been the case. Summing it up nicely, Dr. Walsh was reported as saying: “Even for birds, practice makes perfect.”

Exotic Bird Fair Show Expo 2010

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Medina is getting ready to host one of the biggest exotic bird fairs in the state, which will be held on the 23rd of May 2010, at the Medina Fairgrounds. Visitors to the fair can look forward to browsing through a variety of vendor stores selling products such as nesting boxes, perches, bird cages, food cups and bird cages. Breeders will also be attending, with numerous exotic hand raised birds being available for visitors to marvel at and buy. There will also be food stalls, lucky draws and raffles.

For more information in regard to the show and its vendors, visit the official expo website at http://www.exoticbirdfairexpo.com/.

Date: 23 May 2010
Venue: Medina Fairgrounds
City: Medina, Ohio
Country: United States of America

Osprey History in the Making

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The Kielder Water and Forest Park is located in England. It is not only home to the country’s biggest forest areas, but the largest man-made lake to be found in northern Europe. Its remote location and breathtaking natural landscapes make the park a favorite amongst artists, hiking enthusiasts and cyclists. The park is also the perfect family escape. Animals and bird life play a vital role in the park, and recently the Kielder Water and Forest Park has taken on a conservation challenge that might just make history.

The arrival of a breeding pair of ospreys last year was an exciting event for the staff and rangers at the Kielder Water and Forest Park. It might not sound like a major event, but their sighting in the park marked the return of these magnificent birds to the Northumberland area in more than two hundred years. Ospreys are large raptors that feed on fish and are able to adapt to a variety of habitats, as long as there is water and enough food supply. Even though last year’s visitors did not nest in the park, it is hoped that they will return to the park this year, where a nesting platform will be waiting for them.

Ospreys are known to be very loyal to their partners, and more than often return to a nesting site. Rangers believe that by enticing a breeding pair to nest within the park, they will ensure the return of the birds and their young, and in future lure more breeding pairs to the park. The Kielder Water and Forest Reserve is the ideal location for ospreys, as the lake is able to provide them with both water and ample food supply. The park has now set up a nesting platform in a secret location that is situated deep within the isolation of the forest, and stands at a height of 18.2 meters. To capture the event, and allow visitors to be a part of the excitement, the park has installed CCTV cameras on the platform. This will allow the public to be a part of the excitement without any direct human interference. With all the preparations made, the Forestry Department and the Kielder Water and Forest Park will be waiting patiently to see the first signs of hope; namely the return of the male to scout for nesting sites.

Herald Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana)

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The Herald Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana) is a medium-sized bird belonging to the Procellariidae family. It is a sea bird and spends much of its life on or above the ocean, only really visiting nesting grounds during breeding season. It is generally found below the Equator but you may find these birds as far north as North Carolina on occasion. One of their more notable breeding grounds is that of Raine Island and other small cays in the Coral Sea where it can forage comfortably in the surrounding ocean. When looking for breeding grounds, the Herald Petrel favors warm islands with soils that are well suited for nesting burrows. It feeds on squid and crustaceans which it skims from just below the surface of the water with its bill only to be ingested later whilst the bird is in flight.

When you look at the Herald Petrel, you will find that its body measures roughly 36-41 cm in length with a wingspan of 97-102 cm. Generally speaking, the whole bird is gray with some green showing on the nape and upper tail. The body has no patterning whatsoever. The Herald Petrel also has a hooked, seabird-shaped bill and a pointed tail. The wings are also quite pointed in shape while the legs are pink in color. Birdwatchers should note that there are three different color morphs of the Herald Petrel: light, intermediate and dark. The light morph has a white chest and belly, while its upper parts are a dark gray. The dark morph has a dark grey body overall with a silver-grey or white base on its under-wing flight feathers. The intermediate morph is mixture of the light and dark morph.

When the time comes for the Herald Petrel to breed, both sexes will work together to excavate or clean out a burrow. Once this is done, the female lays only one egg in a sparse, un-lined burrow and both the male and female share incubation duties. After 49-54 days, the eggs hatch and a new Herald Petrel is born. Herald Petrels have only one brood a year.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

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The Fulica Americana or otherwise known as the American coot is a common water bird, family of the Rallidae, and is about 12 inches in length with a wingspan of 25 inches. It is quite a large bird with relatively short wings and tail, and can often be seen swimming and diving in ponds or dams of water. When the American coot goes walking about it often flicks and cocks its short tail, revealing a white under tail. The bill is short and thick and the legs are yellow in color with toes that have lobed webbing. When you look at both the male and female you won’t notice much difference in appearance between the sexes.

There are quite a few differences between the adult and the juvenile. The adult bird has a beautiful white bill with a dark, reddish oval near the base of the bill than not lacks the ring near the tip. The adult’s head, neck, breast, back, and upper wings is a dark gray, brown color with the feathers on the under-belly being slightly lighter. The juvenile on the other hand, is a paler gray-brown color on the breast and back, upper wings and on the under parts of the bird. It has a bright red head and beak with orange colored plumes that come off the neck.

Another bird that is a similar species is the common Moorhen. It is similar in size and shape to the American coot but its bill is reddish in colour with a yellowish tip. It also has a white stripe on its flank and a brown back. The American coot is often mistaken for a duck, although its black body and white triangular beak, which looks similar to a chicken, makes it more easily distinguishable from a real duck. The bird sound of the American coot is a scratchy clucking noise followed by a row of “kuk-kuk-kuk” notes.

Their breeding grounds are in marshes from the southern part of Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America, and then as far south as the north part of South America. They choose a nesting area in between tall reeds in a well-concealed area. If water is available to the birds throughout winter then they will not migrate, but if this is not the case they will migrate to northern areas or to southern British Columbia and United States.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

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The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a small sea bird which spends most of its life living on the open ocean. It is also known as the Common Puffin and it is the only puffin species which occurs in the Atlantic Ocean. All three other puffin species are found in the Pacific. When they are not mating and nesting, Puffins spend their time flying, swimming or riding the vast watery ocean, regardless of the weather. They feed primarily on fish, although they have also been known to eat crustaceans and molluscs. When diving for fish, they make use of their specially adapted wings as a means of propulsion while their webbed feet steer them. They are able to catch several small fish in their bills during the course of one dive, making use of their tongue to trap the fish while their mouths are open. Amazingly, these small pigeon-sized birds can dive to depths between 50 and 200 feet.

The species is primarily characterised by their brightly-coloured orange bills which only gain colour before the mating season. The male is slightly larger than the female and their bodies are mainly black on the top with a white underbelly. Their faces are grey and they have short, red-orange legs. Their bodies average between 28-34 cm in length and they have a wingspan of between 50 and 60 cm. During the winter months, these puffins may travel as far south as the Mediterranean and North Carolina. When it is mating season, the Atlantic Puffin can be found off the coasts of northern Europe, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the eastern parts of North America. They also occur in the Arctic Circle and in northern France and Maine.

Every year near April, puffins start to grow brightly coloured bill plates as they move north towards their breeding grounds. These bills are used in courtship rituals and a pair will usually tap their bills together. After the mating season these brightly coloured bill plates are shed. The male puffin will clear out the nest area for the female he has found before she arrives at the nesting ground, lining it with suitable materials. The female then lays a single egg and the pair share incubation responsibilities. After between 39-45 days, the chick will hatch and then after a further 49 days, will be ready to fledge. When it is old enough it will venture out to sea alone and begin life as a young puffin adult. At about 5-6 years of age, the young puffin will become sexually mature and be ready to mate and produce offspring.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

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The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a wading bird that can be seen near water across North America and breeds throughout the eastern United Sates, Western Texas and New Mexico. It is 14 inches in length, with short yellow legs and a wingspan of 25 inches. This wading bird has a black head that runs into a blue-gray back and wings. The neck is chestnut in color with a white chin, and a white stripe that can be seen on its neck. Females are a little smaller in size with duller and lighter coloring. The Green Heron is almost invisible as it stands completely still, waiting for a fish to be lured into striking distance.

The Green Heron lurks near the edge of the water and feeds on fish most of the time. It is not unusual, however, for them to include spiders, leeches, reptiles, insects, mollusks and crustaceans in their diet. What makes the Green Heron unique is his tool-using fishing method. The heron will use bait to lure the fish close enough for him to strike. Bait such as twigs, insects, feathers and earthworms are dropped into the water, where the Green Heron waits patiently and motionless for his catch. Due to its diet, the heron will often wander to different locations, but will always choose a freshwater site or water marshes. They usually do not travel vast distances, but on occasion, they have been found in France and England.

During the breeding season the male heron will first find an adequate nesting location before finding a partner. This nesting location will be fiercely protected, as the nesting location and a visual display forms part of the male’s bait to lure a mate. He will only mate with one female in a breeding season. Both the male and female heron will contribute in the building of the nest, with the male finding the material and the female taking care of the construction. She will then lay between three to six eggs, after which both birds will assist in the three weeks incubation period. At two weeks, the chicks are able to snap up insects and fledge the nest at three weeks old.

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