Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Project Spotlight: Autumn Migration Banding Station

A Conservation Education Program grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources allowed Luther College and the Decorah Raptor Resource Project to build an autumn migration banding station on campus, giving students unprecedented direct access to wildlife and conversation research. The banding station, located on Hawk Hill on the northeast edge of the Luther campus, is large enough for classes to observe wild birds, band them and gather data before releasing them back into the wild.

Falconer Dave Noble designed and built the station with the help of Dave Kester, John Howe, and Amy Ries. In addition to master banders John Stravers (Hawk) and Kester, we hired six Luther interns to help staff the blind from September 15 to November 15. In total, they caught 36 hawks: Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Coopers Hawks, a Northern Goshawk, and a Rough-legged Hawk. 20 of the hawks were hatch year birds and 16 were adults, with 18 females, 12 males, and six of unknown sex. It was a wonderful field research experience for the interns, who became proficient at trapping, handling, ID’ing, sexing, aging, and banding wild hawks. 18 additional students from the University of Upper Iowa visited the blind with ornithologist and assistant Biology Professor Paul Skrade, who was thrilled to trap and band a Red-tailed Hawk during one of his visits.

Once they are caught, birds need to be ID'd, sexed, aged, and assessed. We weigh them, measure them, look for external parasites, and check their overall body condition before releasing them as quickly as we can. The data is recorded and given to the Bird Banding Lab. You can read more about banding here:

Emily and Dave also worked with Decorah’s schools to introduce younger students to birds of prey. 70 first and second grade students participated in our Introduction to Raptors module, 135 first through seventh grade students got to meet and greet a red-tailed hawk and/or a sharp-shinned hawk, and 8 homeschool students took a field trip to the station, where they were introduced to banding and field research.

Students from the Decorah School System meeting a  Red-tailed Hawk
"The awe of being up close and personal with wildlife is a unique and rare opportunity," said Emily Neal, Luther College assistant director for the Center for Sustainable Communities and environmental studies staff instructor. "It's bringing people close to the natural world. Holding a bird in your hand and feeling something that's so free and powerful, yet at the same time fragile in a world where humans have such an impact on our environment is an amazing experience."

Releasing a hawk after processing
While technology has added a vital dimension to bird studies, there is nothing like a hands-on field program to bring us face to face with the lives and deaths of the birds we study. We are thrilled to have launched a collaborative environmental education and research program with Luther College, the Upper Iowa University, and Decorah schools. The banding station is increasing the body of scientific knowledge about raptors and other birds in Iowa, giving a science-based environmental education to Iowa students, and creating effective conservation volunteers for birds of prey. RRP's mission calls on us to preserve and strengthen raptor populations and foster the next generation of preservationists. Our banding station is an essential part of that charge.

We are very grateful to the Iowa DNR for funding our program. The Iowa DNR and local conservation boards do a wonderful job protecting Iowa’s resources. To learn more about Iowa’s Conservation Education Program, please follow this link: 

If you would like to donate to the Bob Anderson Memorial Scholarship fund, follow this link: