Monday, May 09, 2016

Three Weeks - Update on Banding

Here's a picture from late last week "before" the camera housing got doused with excrement:  A nice shot of a feeding showing how the chicks are growing.  It is even hard to tell which one was the last hatched now!
And a photo "after" - there is now a blurry haze we have to look though since the nestlings have defecated further on the front of the camera housing.  But, at least for now the obstruction is somewhat uniform and the entire view is not blocked.
The chicks will be 3 weeks old this week.  Three weeks old is when we typically have banded the chicks in past years.  During the banding we usually take the opportunity to clean the front of the camera housing since we are out on the ledge anyway.  This year the chicks will not be banded but we will use the same window of time to go out on to the ledge to clean the camera front before they get much older.

Why no banding?
As was announced last year, 2015 was the final year for banding of peregrine falcon chicks in Ohio.  The background for the decision is based on the status of the population.  The peregrine population has recovered to the point that they are no longer an endangered species.  The main goal of banding any species is done for research purposes—to help track migrations, longevity and productivity, etc.  This information is very helpful when a species is in peril to identify areas of weaknesses that maybe can be addressed through conservation efforts.  When the population of a species is stable then there is less of a need for that type of information.  And, while we do our best to make the banding process as safe as possible, there is always still a risk whenever we have our hands on a wild animal that something may go wrong.  Finally, there is staff time involved in the banding process which adds costs to the project.  All that being said and all factors taken into consideration, it was decided that the return/benefit of banding the chicks in Ohio was no longer justified in continuing the effort.  This long explanation is more easily summed up by simply stating it is actually good news that the peregrine population is doing so well that we do not need to micro manage them (including banding) as in the past. 
The discontinuation of banding and the positive upturn of the population and the fact that peregrines are no longer a listed (endangered or threatened) species does not mean that they are aren’t going to be protected or monitored.  They will have continued State and Federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and we will continue to monitor their productivity and status, just less intensively as we’ve done the past 20+ years.  Continued monitoring and protections will ensure that, if the population were to begin to decline again for whatever reason, it would be noticed sooner than later and conservation efforts could be enacted to reverse that trend, if/when needed.
Aside from the biology, looking at the Education and Awareness aspects of the project, no longer banding may detract some from the project for some viewers.  Part of the allure of watching the species via cameras is the identification of individuals through leg bands and knowing how old they are and where they were hatched from.  Over time, as fewer and fewer peregrines are banded (not only in Ohio but in other states as well) we will begin to see more individuals show up at territories that can’t be identified because they will not have a leg band code.  This happens occasionally now but will become more common and it is possible that some viewers may lose interest because they can’t identify with an individual bird.  Hopefully, this will be minimal as just the chance to watch the nesting events unfold live is still a unique and enthralling opportunity.
We have been back and forth with continuing to involve school children in the naming process without banding.  The way that we have named the falcons at the Columbus nest has been a very powerful and worthwhile educational tool.  By involving an entire school in the naming contest, all of the students learn about wildlife conservation and they in turn go home and educate their parents, grandparents, neighbors, etc. etc.  It has worked out extremely well in the past to have the winning kids attend the banding of “their” falcon as part of the prize of submitting a winning name.  Unfortunately, without banding and being able to identify individuals as they develop in the nest and fledge, the act of naming will be lost.  We will discontinue the naming contest but attempt to work with schools in other ways to continue our educational efforts.
So while there are some changes to be expected as the project evolves into the future, we hope that everyone can maintain that the reasons behind the changes are actually very positive for the species as a whole.