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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Banding Wild Chicks and Preparing for the 2002 Hacking Season
Marta Curti — in Aplomado Falcon Restoration    Share
With summer officially underway, and hack season already beginning, this is a busy time for the Aplomado Falcon field crew. This month, we find ourselves still banding wild-born falcons, rearing young falcons in the hack boxes, and planning for our third release, less than a week away. 

While there usually is an overlap between nesting season and hack season, this year’s concurrence of events is even greater due to the fact that the falcons returned to the nest earlier but began nesting much later in the season than they have in the past.  It is during these times that we appreciate, even more, the assistance that we receive from our cooperators and partners.  This year, as well as last year, the employees of AEP-Central Power & Light (CP&L) have been of tremendous help.

As always, one of our top priorities is to band every wild-born chick that we can. When the chicks are between 17 and 23 days old, we usually use a ladder to climb up to the nest. Once at the nest, we gently remove the chicks. We sex them, age them, and weigh them. We also check for parasites and the presence or absence of a crop.  We then place a band on each of the chicks’ legs before easily returning them to their nests. This works very well when the falcons are nesting in mesquite, yuccas, or other small shrubs. This year, however, we have four pairs of Aplomado Falcons nesting on top of tall power poles, virtually impossible to reach without assistance.

So, after a phone call or two, Buddy, Leo, and Hague from the Port Isabel office of CP&L, came down fully equipped with a cherry picker, a harness, and an abundance of enthusiasm for the birds and for the project. After strapping crew member Jessi Brown into a safety harness, Leo guided the cherry picker up to the nest. Once safely into position, Jessi removed two young chicks, one male and one female, and carefully transported them to the ground.

As we banded the chicks, Leo mounted a small wooden platform onto the pole beneath the nest. This platform provides the chicks with a better perching spot after they have fledged, and, most importantly, acts as a "safety net" in case chicks fall from the nest as they are learning to fly.

In addition to the assistance from the Port Isabel office, we have also received help from David, Billy, and Bruno of the Harlingen office. On May 31, Billy and Bruno came down to Port Isabel to help us band some more chicks. However, we were unable to band the birds because they were a bit old. Once the chicks have reached 25 days in age, we don't like to band them when they are on the power poles. When they are that age or older, they are more likely to try to back away as we approach and the possibility exists that they may back out of the nest. So, we made the decision, in that case, that it would be safer for the chicks if we did not band them.

Though Billy and Bruno could have been disappointed, they were not. In fact, Billy has called several times with tips on other nests he has seen on power poles, which could serve as potential Aplomado Falcon nesting sites in the future.     

Several weeks have passed since that time and I am happy to report that all but one group of the power pole chicks have so far fledged successfully and are doing well.  Though we were not able to band all of the chicks, the thrill of seeing them soaring through the sky, side by side with their parents, and knowing that another group of birds has made it to this important stage, is extremely rewarding.  And knowing that we continue to have strong working partnerships with individuals and groups working and living in nearby communities makes our job even more satisfying.

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