Marti, Adah, and I visited Andrew in February to see what he does every winter weekend on a volunteer basis. Driving to Ramona (a city near San Diego) early Saturday mornings, around 6:30 a.m., he and a car full of volunteers, representing Wildlife Research Institute, go out and catch birds of prey (a.k.a., raptors) so their legs can be banded with identifying bracelets.
To see a variety of raptors and listen to each bird's call, click here.
The troupe goes on remote Ramona roads in search for raptors. (A bird of prey, or raptor, is a bird that hunts for food primarily on the wing, using its keen senses, especially vision; the talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful, and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh.) When a raptor is spotted on a telephone pole or tree, for instance, the car slows down and stops. Andrew opens the rear door and gently drops a trap having two live, wild mice inside it. The trap (shown below) has 3-inch monofilament (fishing line) loops on its top to ensnare the birds' legs.
As the car departs, the driver looks in the rear-view mirror. Usually within 1 or 2 minutes, a raptor can be seen diving down onto the trap to catch the mice. When it lands on the trap, its talons become entangled in the fishing line loops. The car then backs up and Andrew, or another volunteer, jumps out and carefully grabs the bird in a special way. Because he doesn't wear gloves, which would impair the handler's sensitive touch of the birds' legs and feet, he needs to carefully avoid being clawed or bitten.
When properly held, the bird is carefully inserted into a metal storage tube (shown below), resembling an old mail box for newspapers. On the storage tube, handlers document exactly where and when the bird was captured. The raptors are then brought back to the nature center.
On the day Marti, Adah, and I visited Andrew and his team in action, they had caught and stored seven hawks by 8:30 a.m. Around 9 a.m., we listened to Wildlife Research Institute director Dave Bittner speak about conservation of the grasslands. He then took the birds, one by one, and applied custom aluminum banding to each bird's leg. Once banded, each bird was returned to its storage tube where it rested comfortably.
People usually go home at this point. However, the raptors are not released en masse from the nature center after banding because, if they were to fly home, they'd have to fly into other hawks' territories, thereby risking hostile attacks on their way home.
Because Andrew was an active Wildlife Research Institute team member and we were his adoring family members, Marti, Adah, and I went out with Mr. Bittner and Andrew to release the newly banded hawks, which consisted of red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks. We drove to each bird's exact catch point. Then one of us was allowed to release a bird to its original venue.
The four of us got the chance to release a banded hawk to its home environment. We'll never forget this opportunity that God gave us to care for his loving creations.
Check out these action photos, especially the breathtaking final photo.
Andrew proudly holds one of a number of banded red-tailed hawks.
Here's an empty raptor trap awaiting arrival of a local bird of prey.
Institute director Dave Bittner informs the audience about the importance
of grassland conservation, especially regarding local birds of prey.
This hawk has received its ID band. It rests in a storage tube,
patiently awaiting release to its home environment.
Andrew, on the right, holds his banded hawk while two other handlers hold theirs.
Director Bittner points to the leg band on this red-tailed hawk.
Once banded, hawks rest inside paper-cushioned storage tubes,
awaiting return to their home environments and eventual release.
A red-shouldered hawk, banded and held by a volunteer handler, proudly spreads its wings.
Dale's red-tailed hawk has been brought back home and is eager to be released.
Andrew gets a true thrill with the release of his red-tailed hawk.
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