Spring Weather, Chick Banding and some Fledglings

A lot has been happening since my last post. Some good, some not so good. We've had a cool, wet spring here in the mid-Hudson Valley which can be the kiss of death for bird nesting. A few of our kestrel pairs have failed, either at the egg or nestling stage and I suspect this weather is at least partly to blame. By early June, we had 18 of 25 boxes where kestrel pairs were at least observed to have started a breeding attempt, but now the number of active pairs is down to 7. In addition to the less-than-ideal weather, starlings were a major cause of low kestrel occupancy. I will be thinking about re-siting some boxes next year to make them more appealing to kestrels.

One box had an interesting and dark story. The female laid 5 eggs and I did a hatching check and found three, 4-5 day old chicks and two eggs. Unhatched eggs...that happens. But when I returned a week later to get a better idea of chick age, the box was totally empty. Something had grabbed those chicks out of the 3-inch entrance hole. I'm at a loss as to what could have reached inside the box and pulled those things out. I would have LOVED to have a camera in that box to document the event. Hopefully I will have some cameras next year.

But on a positive note, it is nestling banding season. I had an appreciative group of weekend birders and volunteers help with the banding of two broods at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. And each box had a full brood of 5 healthy young kestrels. We got to see chicks between 18-24 days of age. Both boxes produced 3 females and 2 males. I try to band nestlings somewhere between 16-22 days old so they are old enough to thermoregulate and be sexed but not too old to fledge early. I love giving people the opportunity to see these amazing birds up close. Not many folks get the chance to see raptor chicks so I like to take advantage of the captive audience and foster some wildlife appreciation. We had a great group and everyone was dazzled by the birds. I had expert assistance from my wife Elizabeth (ladder wrangling, banding, nestling management) and student volunteer Troy (data scribe). As for me, this never gets old. Each new bird gives me the same thrill as if it were the first one I ever held. 

Kestrel chicks are popular
Seconds before a kestrel poop face-shot...No bueno

The other active box at this location has nestlings a bit younger. I had to take a peek inside this morning to make an age determination. Both parents flew by as I approached, the male was carrying what looked like a deer mouse. As I poked my camera inside, angry chittering erupted from the box. Some chicks just look confused when the camera comes in. Not these three...

More good news...the broods I banded last weekend are in the midst of fledging. I'm fairly certain I saw all five outside of one box and the other is a bit behind with 2 confirmed fledglings. It still amazes me how quickly these young birds develop...from helpless fluff balls to flying birds in about 4 weeks. I get a kick out of watching the adults trying to coax the youngsters out of the box. 


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