2019 Annual Report


Photo by M. Mathews
  • The 2019 banding season was the 53rd year of operation.
  • A total of 1,911 birds were banded during the 2019 banding season.
  • Banding stations operated for 269.5 banding days.
  • Cape May Raptor Banding Project (CMRBP) has now banded 154,858 raptors over the history of the Project.

Operation Highlights

This year’s migration and the overall number of birds banded was low compared to 2018. Excluding sharp-shinned hawks, red-shouldered hawks, and peregrine falcons, the number of birds banded for each of the other species was lower than 2018. Although sharp-shinned hawk numbers were high during the 2019 banding season than the 2018 banding season, the numbers were still below the 5- and 10-year averages. Red-shouldered hawk numbers were above the 5- and 10-year averages. The same number of peregrine falcons were banded during the 2019 banding season as the 2018 banding season, with both seasons below the 5- and 10-year averages. The 2019 banding season saw notably low numbers of northern harriers, with 2019 being the worst year for that species since 1975.

Banding productivity was substantially lower than productivity during the 2018 banding season, dropping by approximately 16 percent. CMRBP operated for 269.5 banding days. An average of 7.1 raptors were banded per banding day, compared with 8.6 raptors per banding day in 2018 and 5.9 raptors per banding day in 2017. The most productive banding station was the Meadows station with 597 raptors, which is nearly a 50 percent increase from 2018 productivity at that station. The State Park station was the second-most productive station with 535 raptors. 

Photo by A. Nelson

Research Assistant

Laura Kwasnoski was selected as our research assistant for the 2019 season. She assisted in every aspect of the banding operation and provided outstanding support all around. We especially appreciate the enthusiasm she brought to the banding demos, the dedication that she devoted to trapping and processing raptors, and the attention to detail that she provided in all aspects of the job. We wish Laura the very best as she seeks other professional opportunities.


2019 Banding Season Results 

Photo by M. Mathews

Northern Harrier

The number of northern harriers banded, 27, was down substantially from the 77 captured during the 2018 banding season and substantially down from the 10-year average of 76.3 birds banded per banding season. 


Photo by L. Kwasnoski

The Project banded 1,470 accipiters during the 2019 banding season. Cooper’s hawk remained the dominant species for the season, with 938 captures. Sharp-shinned hawk were the second-most banded accipiter, with a total of 530 banded. This is a trend that CMRBP has observed since 2003. The sharp-shinned hawk numbers are below their 5- and 10-year averages of 560.0 and 544.6, respectively. Cooper’s hawk numbers are also below both the 5- and 10-year averages of 1,145.0 and 1,173.0, respectively. Two northern goshawks were banded during the 2019 banding season. Accipiters made up approximately 77 percent of the season’s banding total, with Cooper’s hawks making up 49 percent of the total. 

Photo by L. Kwasnoski


A total of 159 buteos were banded during the 2019 banding season. Red-tailed hawk numbers were down from 2018, with 137 birds banded in 2019 versus 204 banded in 2018. However, 21 red-shouldered hawks were captured during the 2019 banding season, which is up from 13 banded in 2018 and 10 banded in 2017. Only one broad-winged hawk was banded during the 2019 banding season. No rough-legged hawks or Swainson’s hawks were captured during the 2019 banding season. 


Photo by M. Mathews

CMRBP banded 254 falcons including 37 American kestrels, 164 merlins, and 53 peregrine falcons. The number of American kestrels banded during the 2019 banding season was a 10-year low. Merlin numbers were below their 5- and 10-year averages of 176.8 and 179.1 respectively. CMRBP banded the same number of peregrine falcons during the 2019 banding season and 2018 banding season, and this number remains lower than their 5-year average of 64.2 banded per year. 


One male golden eagle was banded in 2019, and no bald eagles were banded in 2019. 

Cape May Owl Project

The Cape May Owl Project was conducted from October 21 through November 21, 2019 on the Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve, the location of this annual owl banding project since 1984. Nets were run nightly except during precipitation and when wind was excessive.

Owls captured consisted of 30 Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWO) and 3 Long-eared Owls (LEOW). Most (22) of the NSWOs were females; more female than male NSWOs are usually captured at Cape May, probably because females tend to migrate farther south than males. Although standard procedure of broadcasting a male NSWO advertisement vocalization as an audiolure occurred nightly, the number of NSWOs caught this fall was relatively low. Typical of such autumns, most (23) captured NSWOs were adults. Other East Coast stations also reported low capture rates, so the population of NSWOs that migrates down the East Coast could have experienced decreased nest success and few hatch year owls were produced during the 2019 breeding season. Two of the NSWOs captured at Cape May were Foreign Retraps (banded elsewhere), a fourth-year owl banded in 2016 in Middlesex County, Massachusetts and a second-year owl banded in Caroline County, Maryland in 2018.

We recaptured five NSWOs banded this fall after the initial night of banding. The female NSWO that was recaptured seven times in four nights stands out; this second-year female is probably the one that often perched near the audiolure and gave frequent vocalizations. Was she courting the audiolure? 

Returns and Foreign Recoveries

Photo by M. Mathews

Raptors that have been recaptured fall into one of three categories: Foreign Recovery, Returns, and Retraps. These terms are defined as such: Foreign Recovery indicates that a raptor was caught in Cape May with a band not applied by CMRBP, regardless of the year it was originally banded; a Return is a raptor that was originally banded as part of CMRBP and was caught again during a subsequent banding season; and a Retrap is a raptor that is banded and then caught again by CMRBP during the same banding season. There was a total of 70 documented Recaptures: one Foreign Recovery, two Returns, and 67 Retraps. The ten-year average is 93.2 Recaptures, of which 6.1 are Foreign Recoveries, 3.3 Returns, and 83.8 Retraps. As usual, most of the Retraps were within a couple of days if not the day of original capture, but there were two notable Retraps: a hatch-year male Cooper’s hawk separated by 28 days and a hatch-year female Cooper’s hawk separated by 20 days. A most interesting Return was a male Cooper’s hawk banded by Dave Merker on October 4, 2018 and recaptured by him on October 28, 2019, an unusual feat. The other Return was a red-tailed hawk banded by Mitch Harris on October 12, 2018 and recaptured by Paul Napier on November 23, 2019. At the time of this report, the BBL had yet to receive banding information on the single Foreign Recovery, a hatch-year female peregrine falcon. 

Public Demonstrations

Regularly scheduled public demonstrations were given at the Cape May Point State Park on Saturdays and Sundays and at The Nature Conservancy’s South Meadows on Saturdays from mid-September through October. Demonstrations were also provided at the state park for special events and for private groups. In all, 949 visitors attended the presentations. 

2019 Banding Season Summary

Species2019 Total10-year Average
Sharp-shinned Hawk530545
Cooper’s Hawk9381,173
Northern Goshawk24
Northern Harrier2776
Red-shouldered Hawk2114
Broad-winged Hawk12
Red-tailed Hawk137220
Swainson’s Hawk0<1
Rough-legged Hawk0<1
American Kestrel3763
Peregrine Falcon5368
Golden Eagle1< 1
Bald Eagle0<1
Total          1,911