As a Wildlife Services airport biologist working at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, I recently heard from an enthusiastic birder, Tony Thacker, who had spotted a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) wearing an orange and white leg band in Mexico. The USGS Bird Banding Lab provided contact information that allowed us to share details about the bird.
In September, Wildlife Services staff at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport live-captured the hatching-year bird and, after banding it, translocated the hawk more than 140 miles east. Sometime between September 2018 and March 2019, the hawk traveled over 1,200 miles to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where Thacker photographed it. According to Thacker, it was eating white-winged doves and appeared quite content at the Baja Peninsula’s far tip.
One of more than 30 Wildlife Services master banders registered with the U.S. Geological Survey, I enjoyed getting the update. During 2018, Wildlife Services biologists and specialists live-captured and translocated more than 3,100 raptors, including this one, away from conflict situations. In addition to federal bird bands, Wildlife Services operations and research are authorized to use the agency-specific orange bands with white codes. If you see this color band on a bird, it identifies that the bird was once part of a conflict resolution action. Many are captured at airports, a hazardous location for the birds as well as aircraft.
In 2014 our program received the Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award, recognizing a decade-long operations and research effort during which we successfully live-trapped and relocated more than 13,700 individual raptors of at least 32 different species. Predominantly used to reduce bird-aircraft strikes at airfields, research information and methods are being used to evaluate and manage other human-raptor conflicts, such as at wind energy facility development.