Max Peterson spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk April 16 soaring above the Columbia River near Hood River’s popular water sport site: The Hook. He noticed unusual markings on the raptor’s wings and snapped a photo to get a closer look.
Not plumage markings, he discovered, but wing tags.
I got involved because he contacted me about how and where to report it. Any time you see an animal or bird with tags it’s important to send scientists the information: when you saw it, where, and its condition (dead, alive, injured).
Researchers attach wing tags to track movement of birds through sightings like this. The orange patagial markers attached to wings of the raptor Max saw identified it as 4/M.
I discovered that a group called PDX Raptors trapped Red-tailed Hawk 4/M at the Portland airport in August 2016 – part of a wildlife management program sponsored by the Port of Portland PDX wildlife management. At-risk raptors like this are trapped and relocated (at least 40 miles away) in an effort to make the airfield safer for both birds and humans by reducing collisions with aircraft. In this case, PDX Raptors tagged and transported it to Prineville, Oregon, where they released it. Since then, it had been sighted only one other time, also in Hood River in November 2016.
PDX Raptors uses information from sightings to determine the most successful release sites. Success equates to the number of birds not returning to the Portland airport. Approximately 75 percent of the Red-tailed Hawks never return.
Over 2,500 birds (primarily Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels) have been captured at the Portland airfield, banded and released since October 1999. Other species removed include Great-Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Snowy Owl, Great-horned Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk.
PDX Raptors uses a number techniques to deter wildlife: decreasing the number of prey (such as grasshoppers), covering drainage ponds, employing sound cannons, laser lights, and pyrotechnics. Some airports, like Vancouver, Canada, use trained falcons to fly the airfield to scare off smaller birds.
Unfortunately, Red-Tailed Hawks at PDX airport have mostly habituated to the sound cannons and other deterrence contraptions. This species not only enjoys feeding on rodents in the grassy airfield and surrounding area, but sometimes nests on airport radio towers, other structures, and nearby trees.
Although bird strikes are rare, when they occur, wildlife and people can be severely injured. Potentially a strike could bring down a plane if it hits a critical location such as an engine. Intensive management efforts have lessened the number of bird-aircraft collisions at Portland (53 in 2009), but it is ongoing. Similar programs are implemented at other Pacific Northwest airports such as Seattle’s SeaTac.
Orange wing (patagial) tags are used because they are easier for the public to spot on live birds. The usual method of marking birds is by wrapping a band around one leg. But the leg bands are not usually reported or recovered unless the bird is found dead, injured, or recaptured.
If you see or find a red-tailed hawk with a patagial tag, report it to PDX Raptors on their website. The site features a map of tagged raptors sighted in Oregon, Washington and California. At least five other tagged red-tailed hawks seen in the Columbia River Gorge have been reported to PDX Raptors. If you see or find a bird with a leg band or a different type of tag, you can report it to the Bird Banding Lab at www.reportband.gov. Reporting sightings helps scientists and birds.
As our human population grows and land fills with structures and pavement – open space shrinks. Birds looking for an open field to forage have increasingly limited options. Interactions and conflicts between wildlife and humans will continue to increase and solutions often grow more complex with time.
Want to learn more about raptor identification? Visit Bonney Butte during raptor migration this fall. A local group of bird watchers, The Larks, hope to carpool up there this Sunday Sept 16 from Hood River if the smoke and the fire situation permit. Email miko(at)envirogorge.com to get in touch with this volunteer-led bird watching group. Or join the Bonney Butte Hawk Migration Festival September 22-23, 2017.