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Reading Bands and Preparing for the 2002 Nesting Season
Marta Curti — in Aplomado Falcon Restoration    Share
The transition from winter to spring marks the beginning of the nesting season for the Aplomado Falcon in southeast Texas.  For us, the field crew, it marks the beginning of long, hot days spent battling mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, and our own tired eyes as we try to locate and identify new and established pairs of wild Aplomado Falcons. 

This year, we have been presented with an additional challenge. It has become a top priority to read each falcon’s band in order to determine where the bird had been released, if the same birds are holding the same territories year after year, and if pairs mate for life or not.
 
Each Aplomado Falcon is banded with one band on each leg.  If the bird was raised in captivity, biologists place a federal band on its left leg; the band is black if the bird is a female and silver if it is a male.  On the right leg, biologists place a colored band with a unique color/letter/number combination that acts as an “identification number” that no other falcon shares.  If the falcon was born in the wild, the federal band is placed on the right leg and the colored band on the left. 

Since 1998, birds have, and continue to be, banded with easy-to-read metal bands. Prior to that, the colored bands were made of plastic, which by now have worn so badly we are lucky if the band stayed on at all.  However, if it did, chances are it has faded so much that it is difficult to determine what color it once was, let alone read any number or letter which may have been etched on it at one time.  So, for the older birds, we are forced to squint through our scopes in an attempt to read the federal band which is composed of an impossibly small eight- or nine-digit number series, meant to be read only when the bird is in the hand. Despite all this, we have so far located 31 pairs and have read 53 bands. And, with each new band read, we gain a bit more information about the individual falcons that we are observing, and we increase our knowledge about the behavior and biology of the species as a whole.
Though the season is still early, and birds have only recently begun to show signs of nesting behavior (a bit late, perhaps due to an unusual cold spell hitting the area), we have high hopes for the season and for the future of the project.  In fact, one of the most exciting days for me so far this year took place a few weeks ago. Angel, Erin, and Jessie had crossed the border into Mexico to do some general bird watching and to explore the area. Once there, they found a female Aplomado with a BLUE M on her right band. She was paired up with a male and could be nesting.
 
BLUE M is a bird that I had released when I was a hack site attendant at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in the summer of 2000. She was in the first group of birds we had released and I remember her well. She was a fast learner, an adept flyer, and a great hunter. She spent much of her time engaging with the younger falcons at the site and fearlessly chasing off any unwanted intruders such as turkey vultures and white-tailed kites.

To know that a bird I watched every day for over two months has survived on her own and may soon be raising young of her own in the wild is a thrilling experience.  And, in my third season on the Aplomado Falcon Project, nothing has felt more rewarding.  In a job where you can go days without even seeing a falcon at all, it is moments like that, that remind you why you love what you do. And it is moments like that when you don’t even notice the heat or the mosquitoes at all.

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