[Tweeters] Band-tailed pigeons and Satellite tags

hrudkaj mary hrudkajm at hotmail.com
Sun Aug 5 14:46:55 PDT 2007

Early last week a gentleman from USGS posted to Tweeters about locating 
band-tailed pigeons for a satellite tracking program they have going on.  
Having a plethora of pigeons I emailed them back.

Saturday morning two traps were set up and the two guys from USGS and myself 
sat at waited and waited and waited.  Got good looks at a Wilson's warbler 
and really great looks at a sharp-shinned hawk that decided this yard was 
the place to play. So, much of the morning we watched as a jay and the hawk 
played a deadly game of tag throughout the yard.  Nobody got hurt but we 
didn't get any pigeons either.  So the traps were left in the yard (unset so 
we wouldn't catch anything overnight) for Sunday morning's try for pigeons.

Sunday morning slowly the band-tailed pigeons began coming in to the trees 
above the feeding area.  Meanwhile we cringed upon again hearing the call of 
the sharp-shinned hawk which fortunately did not decide to use my yard for a 
playground again.  By 0800 the hen mountain quail and her three chicks had 
arrived and had actually gone into one of the two traps to eat the bait 
seed.  They eventually wandered out and by 0815 the pigeons had finally 
decided it was safe enough to venture down for food.  By 0818 we had four in 
one trap and the door saw closed.

After safely putting the pigeons in to a smaller carrier (about four feet 
square and a foot tall) the birds were brought up to the truck where the 
guys had all their equipment stashed.  Three of the pigeons were of 
sufficient weight to have transmitters attached.  The transmitters are about 
1 1/2 inches long, 5/8ths inch high and about 3/8 inch high with a 10 inch 
long antenna going diagonally up from the back.  It is held on by a 1/4 inch 
wide teflon tape that will fall off after 2-3 years.  The harness and the 
transmitter were checked and double checked for fitness and for not 
interfering with flight movements.  The birds were weighed, banded and 
measured before later release.

After all four birds were processed all were released unharmed.  One thought 
it couldn't fly and landed in the yard but within seconds realized 'Hey, I 
can fly' and was on his way.

The USGS has a website that anyone can visit and monitor this and other bird 
tracking programs already in progress.  The address is www.werc.usgs.gov, 
look for the satellite telemetry tab on the page.

It was interesting to observe the dichotomy between the high and low tech 
ends of this tracking program.  Twenty-first century satellite technology is 
match with the ages old method of dropping a box over something to catch it. 
  One of the USGS guys said they had tried other trapping methods but the 
'drop the cage' method worked best and never needed batteries, etc.

They were nice enough to let me photograph everything that went on this 
morning while they worked.  And ever nicer to let me handle the bird that 
got just the leg band.  It was a neat feeling to have helped birding science 
even this little bit.

Now I just have to watch for these birds to return next spring.....

Mary Hrudkaj

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