Bird-lover is big on banding

Education, eagle cam planned for next summer

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After a dozen years of banding birds of prey and 40 as a falconer, Littleton firefighter Tony Head is partnering with the Highlands Ranch Community Association to initiate some educational programs in the backcountry wilderness area.

Head, who when he is not busy fighting fires can be found training birds of prey, plans to introduce some survey courses in the backcountry next summer.

“The backcountry is loaded with birds,” Head said. “We plan to do some raptor surveys and basically look for nests. We will be trapping older birds for educational purposes and banding them if they haven’t been already.”

The process of banding involves putting a little metal band on the bird with a number on it that serves as a license plate. Doing this after a bird was just born allows scientists to keep track of life expectancy, survivability and migratory patterns.

Head, along with HRCA Backcountry Wilderness Area Supervisor Mark Giebel, had plans to band a baby golden eagle this summer as well as a few Cooper’s hawks. 

“The golden eagle nest we’ve been watching fledged one baby golden eagle last year, which is normal,” Head said, “but that nest failed this year for some reason.”

Head explained that usually only one eagle fledgling comes from a nest despite two being born. “One eats the other, kind of a Cain and Abel thing,” he said.

As far as the Cooper’s hawks were concerned, nature got in the way of the majority of plans for this year, but the duo was still able to band one 19-day-old chick.

“We were originally planning on banding chicks from three different nests that we were monitoring but it appears only one survived that monster hailstorm in June,” Giebel said of the lone surviving hawk he and Head banded last week.  

The two found a handful of broken eggs in one of the other nests and were not able to access the third nest to look inside, but did not see any chicks nearby.

“Hopefully next year we will band a golden eagle baby and develop some programs around banding the chicks,” Giebel said.

In addition, according to Head, there are plans to install a live eagle nest cam in January or February so that people in Highlands Ranch can watch the eagles hatch and grow up just by going online and visiting the HRCA website.

“We have a lot of people in Highlands Ranch who are bird watchers, so I imagine that would be a good experience for them, getting to see the birds up close,” Head said.

Head, who has a license from the federal government so that he can band birds, said the programs will be intended for all ages, from schoolchildren to seniors. Head’s interest is solely in birds of prey.

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