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Plumas birders help with hawk study

Hawk-sportsJames Wilson
Sports Editor
2/3/2014

 

Traffic slowed down on Quincy Junction Road on Jan. 16 – 17, as motorists saw a peculiar sight on the side of the road. Biologist Jeff Kidd, with Kidd Biological Co., was hanging on to a rough-legged hawk as a crowd of Plumas County birders looked on.

Kidd came to Quincy as part of an ongoing study on the migrating habits of the rough-legged hawks. Rough-legged hawks migrate to Quincy from the Arctic during the winter months.

David Arsenault, Plumas Audubon’s executive director, cued the organization’s members on to the study and birders from all over the county came to watch Kidd work. The Leonhardt and Bresciani ranches opened up their land for Kidd to conduct his study.

The study involved Kidd capturing rough-legged hawks with bal-chatri hawk traps. The traps were wire-mesh cages with small rodents inside. The top of the traps had nooses of fishing line sticking out that the hawks’ talons would tangle up in.

Once the hawks were trapped, Kidd untangled them, measured them, weighed them and tested their health. Once the hawks were deemed acceptable for the study, a transmitter was attached to them.

The transmitters were put on the hawks much like a backpack. Each transmitter weighed only 22 grams, and was solar-powered. The transmitters will submit the location of each hawk every eight hours for five years. The transmitters will relay vital information with little impact on the hawk.

After years of tracking these hawks, Kidd will be able to determine any changes in the birds’ migration habits. Changes in migration habits can indicate larger problems that affect the whole world.

Rough-legged hawks migrate to American Valley for the hunting grounds the ranches offer. The open land allows the hawks to hear and see their prey from a good distance. Arsenault commented on how important for rough-legged hawks this type of land is.

“It’s really important to keep these types of fields,” said Arsenault. “We’re losing agricultural land right and left to development. Once you lose it, it can’t come back.”

Those interested in learning more about what species of birds come to Plumas County can visit the Plumas Audubon office at 429 Main St. in Quincy or call 592-0672. A variety of birding pamphlets are available in the office.

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