Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery is sponsoring a program to band Red-headed Woodpeckers (RHWOs) at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. A team of experienced bird banders consisting of Jim Howitz (Lead Bander and Permit holder; near right), Ron Refsnider (Bander; far right) and Lance Nelson have been capturing RHWOs for banding following the North American Bird Banding Program protocols.
Last year graduate student, Ari Waldstein, was able to capture and color-band the first Redhead at Cedar Creek, a female, which has been nicknamed "Eve". Eve was our first banded bird! This spring the newly established Banding Team has been very successful. As of May 5th, they have banded 35 Red-headed Woodpeckers, including at least four pairs.
The team is using two techniques to capture the birds. They are using baited Potter traps and mist nets. Ron Refsnider has built several mock Potter traps to use along with the actual Potter traps. The mock traps, which allow the bird to easily exit after feeding, are placed on feeding platforms about a week before the planned banding date to get the target birds accustomed to going under wire mesh to get food items. It is baited with peanuts or other nuts. Lance says they really like macadamia nuts. If there is a choice, they always take the macadamia nut first. On banding day the mock trap is replaced with a baited Potter trap. As of May 5th, the team has caught nine birds using the Potter trap, including Ari's "Eve".
The mist net is 10 feet high and 40 feet long. It is erected with 7-foot extension poles to get it higher into the RHWO's flight pattern. It is placed in RHWO flight avenues near their nesting or roosting cavities. A "boom box" is used to play a RHWO call and drumming directly beneath the center of the net to attract the birds to the vicinity. Experience has allowed better placement of the nets which has given increased success. Seven birds were captured during the last banding session for a total of 26 captured in the mist net. This has been a learning experience for the team. Lance Nelson says cloudy days are more successful than clear days, probably because the net is more visible to the RHWO in bright sunlight. Placing the net near low perch trees also seems important in successful capture.
Capture data are collected on the bird such as weight, wing and tail length, eye color and plumage notes. In addition, the team is plucking five breast feathers that are sent to Avian Biotech International in Tallahassee, Florida to sex the bird using DNA. Before release each bird is banded with a Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) numbered aluminum band, which can go on either leg. They are also banded with three colored plastic bands (yellow, green, blue, red, black, and orange). By using these bands, an observer with binoculars can positively identify an individual bird from the position and colors of the four bands on their legs. This ability to recognize individual birds will allow behavioral and demographic studies not possible before. For example, for the first time we will be able to determine mate and nest site fidelity of the birds that breed at Cedar Creek.
Over the past two summers, Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery has provided funding for research conducted by graduate student, Ari Waldstein (right), at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. Ari's work has contributed valuable new information to our knowledge of the breeding biology of Red-headed Woodpeckers.
Last summer Ari and her sister, Sasha, used our nest camera to take videos of nestling red-heads almost ready to fledge. It was quite difficult holding a swaying 30-foot pole with a tiny camera on the end and inserting the camera into the nest cavities but they succeeded.
The photos below are video stills of Ari and Sasha using the video camera, and of eggs and babies inside nest cavities. Click on this link to see the videos at YouTube.
For the past three years we had suspected the average clutch to be only one or two birds, given how small in diameter most nest limbs were. But Ari's research revealed between three and four young crammed into most cavities. That was quite a surprise.
And that's what research is all about!
Committee members also contribute to the research by searching for nests at Cedar Creek. Last summer, they were able to confirm 42 active nests. That's the most ever! And a big increase over the previous year.
A Bird in the Hand....
Toward the end of last summer, Ari successfully trapped and banded an adult Red-headed Woodpecker (right). This was our first banded bird! Nicknamed "Eve", she was captured in Burn Unit 401 not far from Highway 26. Eve was banded with yellow and blue plastic bands on the left leg and red and silver bands on the right leg. The color banding program is continuing this summer (see story above).