Friday, June 7, 2013

The Kestrels of State Game Lands #205

Last year, I wrote a about my experience banding American Kestrels in State Game Lands #205 in Lehigh County. I had a chance to return this past Tuesday to do some birding and check the nest boxes. The morning started out with a bird survey of the game lands that involved five-minute point counts at about twenty locations throughout the property. We found many common grassland bird species, including Field and Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, and Indigo Buntings. We also found a few less common species: Alder Flycatcher, Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows, and Bobolink. The Bobolink and Vesper Sparrow were especially exciting, as these were species previously unrecorded in this game lands and are indicators of the excellent grassland habitat being created and managed there. For me, the singing Alder Flycatcher was intriguing, as there are very few known breeding territories of this species in Lehigh County.

After the bird survey, we checked on the nest boxes to determine the success of breeding kestrels this year.

All of the occupied nest boxes had chicks that were still too young to band, but we noted how many young and eggs were present in each nest.

Although the chicks were still too small for banding, we were able to capture several of the adult females. Most of these birds were unbanded, so we took measurements and placed a band around each bird's leg.

When we pulled the last bird of the day out of the nest box, we realized that she had was already banded and had a patagial tag, a type of wing marker used to identify individual birds without having them in the hand.

It turns out that this bird was banded as a chick in Warren County, NJ last June! One other adult female kestrel we caught was previously banded at the same location in New Jersey, but did not have a wing tag.

Based on the age of the young kestrels we saw, banding will take place in just a few weeks! All in all, the grassland songbird species we found in the morning and the many young kestrels we saw are good signs of a healthy grassland habitat that is sure to bring more birds in the future as the habitat matures and improves.

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