The Wacker Chick Banding!

Chicks in the Box!Not much to report on Max, Hercules and family. I saw them take two pigeons and some sort of shore bird into the nest between yesterday and today and was showered by a bunch of warbler feathers as Hercules plucked her prey on the Monadnock roof.

About two weeks ago, Mary Hennen asked me if I’d like to attend the banding of the Wacker chicks. YES!!! I think I showed a smidge more poise than that when I answered, but not a whole heck of a lot more. May 31st, 2006. Today. Chick banding!! I am a bit excited.

I watched the prison birds for a couple of hours and then headed over to the Wacker building at 10:30am for an 11am rendezvous with Team Wacker Banding. I stopped at the Sears Tower Starbucks and picked up an iced green tea, which I sipped while waiting in the Wacker building’s lobby for a half hour, trying not to look at my watch ever two minutes.

Business people in power suits streamed in and out and I started to feel very out of place. Them: fine tailored suits in grays and blacks, nice shoes, strict hair. Me: boots, jeans, a green t-shirt and festooned with a packed-to-the-gills camera and field bag, a spotting scope case, a large tripod and a small tripod.

Finally, a similarly dressed group came through the revolving door and I moved to greet them. Mary Hennen led the group. Matt from the Shedd Aquarium introduced himself first. He’s been on the project almost as long as Mary, nearly twenty years. Chris from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service was excited to test his newly learned banding skills. Finally, John and Katrina from the Lincoln Park Zoo veterinary staff greeted me. What a nice group of people. Carrying boxes, ropes, veterinary supplies, buckets and various other tools, we all headed up to the building manager’s office.

Peregrine Falcon Female - RahnI’d been at the Wacker site before, so I knew exactly where we were going, up to the top, to one of the large a/c rooms. When we arrived, the team went into a well-rehearsed routine, setting up a table and equipment while Matt helped Mary get her harness and ropes on and secured the rope to a large piece of rebar.

Since the crew seemed to have everything under control, I went to the ledge door window. The female stood in a defiant pose right outside. She stared in the window, screeching angrily. Mary asked me to try to get a good picture of her leg bands, so I clicked pictures madly. I saw the bands clearly, though: Black “01” over Green “A”.

Rahn's LegbandsFinally, everything was ready. Mary put on her helmet, heavy leather gloves and thick over-shirt and we opened the door. Head down, box pushed before her, she crawled out onto the ledge.

The parents went absolutely nuts. Of course, all the chicks were at the northernmost corner of the ledge, requiring Mary to crawl to the other side of the building on the ledge. All the while, the male and female parents were diving down, screeching, and trying to drive her back. I heard several loud thunks as their knuckles hit her helmet, but Mary plowed on. She’s done this so many times, I don’t think she even noticed. Quickly, she packed the chicks into the box, turned and made her way back. We spotted for her, Matt yelling out “duck!” when one of the parents was about to hit. And then she was in!

Before the trap door shut, I looked out and noticed the windows of adjacent skyscrapers filled with people. It was sort of breathtaking.

Matt banding the first chickThe first chick banded was a male. Matt reached into the box and pulled the screeching little guy from the box. Expertly, he laid him on his back on the table and Chris (USFWS) placed a towel over the chicks head in order to calm him. Immediately, the screeching stopped and the chick stilled.

Mary handed Matt the first set of bands, B/G, E/23 and he quickly put it around the chick’s left leg and then put two rivets through the tab on the edge of the band. No part of the banding process pierces the chick at all. Then, he attached the pinkish-purple USFWS band to the right leg – #220649474.

Taking a blood sampleNext, Katrina and John, the Lincoln Park Zoo vet techs, went into action. They very expertly took blood from a major vein that runs under the wing. The chick didn’t even flinch. We can all only wish that most human phlebotomists were as gentle as John. The vial of blood was labeled and stored and will be used for genetics studies.

Dusting for LiceLastly, we dusted the chick for bird lice. John is doing a study involving bird lice and was hoping to get some samples. Although we dusted all four chicks and looked very hard, we didn’t get even one lice from this bunch. They were clean! Although, I have to admit that I helped look for lice and thoroughly enjoyed getting a great opportunity to scritch the bellies of all of the chicks. I doubt they enjoyed it as much as I did. Here is another picture of one of the males as we looked for lice on his back.

053106_wacker_mary_bandingMary banded the second male quickly, blood was taken and lice weren’t discovered. She used the time to give Chris a good lesson on banding. I jotted notes down too. Never know! This little male was B/G, E/24, #220672293. On to male number three!

Mary Gives a Banding LessonChris was going to go last in the banding, so the third male was pulled out of the box and Mary gave him a more detailed banding lesson. She was really fast. It was amazing. This male was B/G, E/25, #220672297.

Chris does his first banding!Finally, it was Chris’ turn. He pulled the largest chick, the only female, from the box and set her on the table. She was the biggest so the had the largest legs to grab, but I’m not sure Chris got the best deal as in my opinion, that female was the feistiest of all the chicks.

She screeched and flapped and bit and struggled the whole time. Chris did really, really well as he put her bands on: B/G, K/36, #168702025. Soon the angry female was back in her box.

Etienne giving us an earfullIt was all over too soon for me (but I’m sure not for the chicks). We opened the door to a very angry mother and father falcon and Mary put each chick back out on the ledge. Then, we shut the door quickly to allow the family a very, very noisy reunion.

The dad really gave us an earful while I snapped a couple of pictures while the mother flew around behind him. The chicks finally started to wander to their favorite places on the ledge, screeching the whole time.

So, everyone was home, no one the worse for the experience. We packed up, I bid goodbye to the team and went on to the museum.

I have a short video of the experience in my July 11th missive. Enjoy!

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~ by Steph on May 31, 2006.