When I began working with the peregrines, the only nest in the province was on the Radisson Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, so banding the Radisson chicks was the highlight of the season. All these years later and even though we have more nests, banding the Radisson chicks is always a highlight. Having said that, Larry our cam coordinator would disagree – the adult peregrines seem to universally disapprove of his presence near their nestboxes (doesn’t even matter if they are nesting) and they make their disapproval very clear!!
Every banding is different – different birds have different personalities that translate into different responses when we walk onto their roof. This is Pip’s and Ella’s first year together and it is interesting to see that Ella hasn’t changed from her days at West Winnipeg, she still wants to take our heads off, but the walls around the top of the roof prevent her from getting a clean shot at us.
Pip is just as defensive but he learned from the best – Princess was his first mate and over the years she learned to watch before going ballistic, and it was a lesson he learned well. After he swung around the building so he could watch the chicks from the air, he headed up to the top of the retaining wall to watch what we were up to on the other side of the wall. He reminded me of Trey in his response – he’s a look before he attacks kind of bird which is the perfect kind of bird for the Radisson since diving at us is a bit more dangerous here than say at West Winnipeg, Logan or McKenzie Seeds. It also means he isn’t as stressed, he finds a spot and can see what is going on rather than flying around maybe catching occasional glimpses (like Ella!). And less stress is always better.
This year’s two chicks have been mobile for a few days now and one of our concerns was that they would be out on the “balcony” when we opened up the nestbox. Instead, they were cooperatively cuddling with each other in the back of the nestbox. It was easy enough to scoop them up and put them in pails so we could take them away from the nestbox. We use pails so that a) they can’t get out, b) the smooth sides don’t damage their feathers or feet, c) lets us keep them separate which makes it easier to extract them to band, d) lets us move the banded chicks away from their to-be-banded siblings which reduces their stress and last, but certainly not least, e) the pails are easy to clean when the chicks decide to defecate in disapproval. Not that they appreciate their time in the pail … or as we call it, “chick-in-a-bucket”.
Ella’s and Pip’s chicks this year were both males. One chick has more brown flight feathers peeking through its white fuzzy feathers but when we measured their legs they measured out as males. The chick with more brown showing is without a doubt the chick that hatched on May 28th, the one with less brown hatched May 29th which makes them 25 and 24 days of age respectively. We always plan to band our chicks between 21 and 25 days of age (if we can) so that their feet are fully-grown and we can be more confident we are putting the right size bands on them. Because we have smaller birds than most jurisdictions, we measure all our birds’ feet even though you can generally identify the gender of a young peregrine by sight alone. By always measuring, we can be sure we are putting the proper size of band even if the bird turns out to be the opposite gender. Female peregrines are up to 1/3 again as large as the males but here in Manitoba, we often have females that are closer in size to males so we make sure the band is the right size and if the chick survives to nest in the future, we can confirm its gender. Hurricane, our resident female at the McKenzie Seeds Building in Brandon was banded as a male along with two of her three siblings. We know that one of her “male” siblings was also a female so its possible that her siblings were all females rather than three males and one female! No way to know until/if they survive to nest … and only Hurricane is known to have survived from her family. Only once have we had a male who measured out to be a female at banding time. That would be Annie who has been the resident male in Fargo, North Dakota for the last eight years. The male size leg band literally wouldn’t got onto his leg so we banded him as a female and gave him a “girl’s” name. Actually, Annie is short for Anniversary because he hatched in 2010 – the thirtieth year of the Project and he hatched in the same territory where we hack-released our first captive-bred chicks in Manitoba in 1981. We thought it was the perfect name at the time and to be honest, still do because it is part of “his” story, and besides a rose by any other name would smell as sweet – or dive-bomb humans just as accurately.
So we put silver aluminum bands with an unique nine-digit number on one leg and a coloured band with a three-digit number on the other leg. The coloured band is black with white digits, indicating that bird is a wild-hatched bird and we are one of the last jurisdictions to use solid black bands, so when our birds are travelling and someone gets a look or photo of their bands, it is usually very easy (and quick) for them to track us down with the sighting. The number on the silver band is like your social insurance number and isn’t readable unless you have the bird or band in your hand. The coloured band with its contrast of white digits on black are easier to read and the three digits are large enough to be read at a distance with field glasses, spotting scope or telephoto camera lens. Because the silver band numbers aren’t readable at a distance, we put coloured electrical tape on the silver band to help us tell one chick from another at a distance. This year we have put red tape on one of the Radisson chicks’ silver band and left the other band bare. The tape comes off in a couple of months but while the chicks are here in town, we should be able to tell them apart a bit more easily.
After a couple of photos (thank you Dennis) so we have a visual record of the bands and the birds, the chicks go back to the nestbox. We put a board into the box to prevent the chicks from rushing away from us onto the balcony – we don’t want them to have an accident trying to get away from us. So the board goes into place and we put the birds back into the box. Some chicks protest but go back in with little difficulty … some however are a little more obstinate! Ella’s and Pip’s second chick wasn’t pleased when I retrieved him, wasn’t pleased when we banded him (the noise was deafening!!) and just to cement his reputation, wasn’t pleased to exit “his” pail. Gravity is a wonderful thing however and eventually he was parked on the gravel beside his brother. And that was the end of the day. We closed down the lid of the nestbox and carefully removed the board from inside the box, again, so as not to scare the chicks into running. No worries there. We retrieved our gear from where we had put it beside the exit off the roof and went inside leaving the roof to the peregrines. We checked the chicks on the new cameras and they were still undercover in the nestbox with it seemed, no intention of going outside on the balcony until their next meal arrived. No birds were injured, only a little blood was shed on our side (Larry & Dennis escaped unscathed) and the peregrines settled back down shortly after we departed. A perfect day all around!