Banding Hawks

My wife Tricia departed NH on Friday bound for Nashville, from where she will be plying her craft for the winter We planned to rendevous at Hawk Mountain, which is either 6 hours, 5 days, or a month south of NH depending on your mode of transport. Tricia chose the car and I chose the bike, and we made it work. I passed many who chose to walk, hiking north along the Appalachian Trail. One and all, we were bound together traveling a common route by uncommon means, connected in our own peculiar way with the land and the clock.

imageBefore she arrived, I had the good fortune to spend the day banding hawks at Little Gap with Rebecca McCabe of Hawk Mountain. Little Gap is a break in the Kittattinny Ridge about 30 minutes to the north. In operation for about 40 years, the site is run by master bander and professional gentleman Gerry Lahr, and is one of several hawk banding sites along the Appalachians.

Becca McCabe & Gerry LahrBecca McCabe & Gerry Lahr

The practice of banding hawks differs substantially from songbird banding. The latter is a passive exercise, wherein mist nets are erected in lanes cut through the brush, and birds are caught as they fly across the lanes. Hawk banding employs the use of lure birds, which entice migrant hawks to fly into the nets. I appreciate that some people will have valid concerns about this practice, and I must confess to a degree 0f unease myself. However I am at peace with it for the following reasons:

  • The lure birds are protected by a leather tunic and most times the hawks are trapped before they can reach the bird.
  • The species used are not of conservation concern and mostly involve the use of invasive species introduced to North America at cost to our native species.
  • The benefits to wildlife managers and scientists gained from the data outweighs the cost. It is virtually impossible to manage for the welfare of hawks and other species unless you have baseline data that these projects provide.

Finally, I can conclusively put to rest one canard about Broad-winged Hawks. When I arrived 0n on these shores in 1999 and visited my first hawkwatch, there was a sense, not infrequently given voice, that Broad-winged Hawks don’t eat during fall migration. Their ability to harness the nuclear energy emitted by the sun substituted for the need to snack during their journey south. I had the good fortune to visit the hawk banding station on the best day of the season to date. We caught an adult Broad-winged Hawk, at 480 gm likely a female, and one of about 20 that Gerry has caught in 40 years. They are not a commonly caught raptor. The fact that it’s crop was half full and it was still persuaded to pursue a meal of pigeon convinced me that they will take food during migration. In nature, there are very few absolutes.

Eric with adult Broad-winged Hawk

Eric with adult Broad-winged Hawk



10 Responses to “Banding Hawks”

  1. Ted Leach September 19, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    Great info Eric

  2. Tom Lawton September 20, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

    Good to see you’re in good shape. Rest that leg, I know how hard that PA cycling can be as I did the Wyoming Valley a number of years ago. Look forward to hearing more.

    • Eric Masterson September 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

      Thanks Tom. PA almost in the rear view mirror now. MD tomorrow and south of the Mason Dixon.

  3. Cheryl Faust September 22, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

    Good Luck on your journey! I was a pleasure to meet you Wednesday night at the Saw Whet Owl banding meeting! I look forward to watching your trip and seeing your updates!

    • Eric Masterson September 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

      Hi Cheryl – great to meet you too. I have a feeling I will be back down that way again. Best,

  4. John September 23, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    Hi Eric,
    Just showed your nieces the map and your route. Very excited! Keep the wheels turning and the posts coming in.
    Hannah, Eva, John and Sonja.

    • Eric Masterson September 24, 2016 at 2:39 am #

      Thanks guys.

  5. Ingrid Masterson September 23, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

    Hi Eric,
    Enjoying reading your updates–(missed your departure as I was in France-Trish updated me), but learning a lot now, about Hawk ‘lure birds’-never knew they were not native,– about American Geography following your route, and history–the Mason -Dixon line!
    I hope your Achilles is recovering, take it easy and enjoy—–Mum

  6. Jenny Ashley October 12, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

    Interesting post, safe travels.

    • Eric Masterson October 25, 2016 at 3:39 am #


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