Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bogue Falaya's Debut from the Bayou

Dr. Jennifer Coulson, President and Conservation Chair of the Orleans Audubon Society, studies population and nesting ecology of Swallow-tailed Kites in Louisiana and Mississippi. She’s also a long-time colleague and friend to ARCI. Dr. Coulson captured and tagged Swallow-tailed Kites Slidell, PearlMS, Pasc, and Strong River, who have since stopped transmitting, and Lacombe, who’s in his third year of tracking. She uses the same trapping technique we’ve carefully developed over the years to safely capture Swallow-tailed Kites – a strategically placed mist net and a lure bird. ARCI’s favorite lure is Trapper, a disabled educational Great Horned Owl, who has worked with us for over a decade. 

Dr. Coulson recounts her exciting experience tagging Swallow-tailed Kite Bogue Falaya with her husband Tom Coulson:

“We trapped Bogue Falaya a stone’s throw from the Bogue Falaya River, one of Louisiana’s Natural and Scenic Rivers, in a forested subdivision. The river flows through pine and bottomland hardwood forests, ideal habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites. Three pairs of Swallow-tailed Kites are known to inhabit a nesting “neighborhood” along the river.

Bogue Falaya's striking profile.
With permission, we set up our trapping equipment on a lawn near one of those known nests. Only 12 minutes after the owl was in place and the nets were opened, the Bogue Falaya male made a bold, earthbound dive in an attempt to drive the owl away from its nest. In doing so, he encountered the net and unwittingly became part of our kite tracking and suburban nest studies.

Tom Coulson displays Bogue
 Falaya's new transmitter.
The kite’s banding measurements and soiled undertail coverts indicated that it was probably male, but we took a small blood sample for DNA sexing just to be sure. The usually-white undertail coverts were soiled from hauling food; males tend to hunt farther from the nest and thus spend more time carrying food than females. Although robust, Bogue Falaya was somewhat small, also suggesting this bird is a male. In raptors, females tend to be the larger sex.

Once Bogue Falaya was tagged and identifiable, we observed his behavior to determine which nest he tended. Four days after tagging him, we watched him deliver a green anole to one of the nests in the neighborhood. Bingo! Bogue Falaya and his mate successfully fledged two healthy-looking young."

Fatherhood completed, Bogue Falaya left his nesting grounds on 19 Aug 2017 and, unlike the kites from Florida who cross the Gulf of Mexico, made his way over land by way of Mexico and Central America to overwinter in Brazil. Winter (actually summer in Brazil) came and went, and on 22 Jan 2018, Bogue Falaya began to inch northward, indicating an imminent northbound migration.

Bogue Falaya takes to the skies upon release.