The birds have been in for 5 weeks now and are looking a lot less fluffy than when they went in. Duncan Orr-Ewing, Justin Grant (RSPB) & Roy Dennis have come along to help me and Andrew fit wing tags and radios. I’m just hoping that my painted efforts look a bit better from a distance!
It takes about 30 minutes to process each bird, including taking biometrics (measuring different parts of the eagles’ bodies), weighing, fitting wing tags and radios.
The first big problem is catching the birds, they haven’t been handled since they arrived and are none too pleased to be handled. We put falconers’ hoods on their heads, covering their eyes to calm them down, keeping a tight hold of the legs and keeping wings in they are then carried into an empty cage where we have a carpeted table set up to do all the fitting.
We measure the feet, legs, wings and bill and then weigh them in a bag on a spring balance, before fitting the wing tags. Its important to use this handling opportunity to get as much information as possible about the birds, pre-fledging weight is especially useful and the biometrics help tell us how precise our sexing of wild birds is, as we know the sexes of ours from DNA analyses.
Fitting a wing tag is a bit like ear piercing, you need to find the centre point of a flap of skin along the wing edge, then attached the tag to this with a piece of wire and some washers. It is a surprisingly quick and easy process. The radio ‘backpacks’ took a little longer, they are fixed on via Teflon ribbon running in front and behind the wings and being sewn and glued together at a central point in the birds’ breast. The birds soon preen in all the ribbon and radio once they are back in their cages, leaving only a couple of inches of aerial poking out.
We managed to get all the birds done in 1 day. The big revelation was that despite the fact that some birds had been gripping on the front of the cages and flapping to get out for a couple of weeks, we found that they all had a little bit more growing of their tail feathers to do. So, I have a couple more weeks lugging buckets of fish up the hill to go yet before they can be released.