2017 Annual Report


The 2017 banding season was the 51st year of operation. 1,665 birds were banded. Banding stations operated for 284.5 banding days. We have now banded 150,634 raptors over the history of the Project.

Operation Highlights

Immature Rough-legged Hawk

Highlights of the season include the capture and banding of one Golden Eagle, two Rough-legged hawks and one Swainson’s hawk. Excluding the Swainson’s and the Rough-legged Hawks, most other species numbers were down when compared to last year. Merlins were marginally higher and Peregrines were much higher. Overall, we banded the lowest number of birds since 1973. The historically low capture rate can be attributed to a lack of weather fronts during what is normally our peak period. However, banding productivity was slow throughout. The number of birds banded per banding day was 5.85 compared to 9.26 in 2016.

The most dramatic differences occurred with Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks and Red-tails. The sharp-shin capture at 375 was nearly 50% less than last year, Cooper’s Hawks at, 826, were down 35% and Red-tails at 129 were down 62% from the previous season

Research Projects    

Transmitter Telemetry for Golden Eagles: Dr. Trish Miller, West Virginia University, assisted by Mike Lanzone of Cellular Tracking GOEAcloseup2017webTechnologies, once again banded and attached a GPS telemetry unit to a hatching year male Golden Eagle. Dr. Miller and Mr. Lanzone hope to attach additional transmitters to Golden Eagles in the future as part of a study to learn more about the movement ecology of coastal Golden Eagles and how they may differ from the Appalachian Plateau wintering population.

Feather Samples of Prey Items: Remnant feather samples from prey items were collected from the talons and mouth area of raptors and will be forwarded to Dr. John Delong at the University of Nebraska.  Dr. Delong is conducting research on how migration affects prey selection as the raptors move out of their home territories.

Flat Flies and Avian Pathogens – Dr. Nick Baer and his students from Colby-Sawyer College, collected flat flies for research related to avian pathogens. In addition to collecting samples of flat flies for testing, a study was initiated to determine the number of flat flies on certain individual raptors

Photo by A Nelson


Caylen Wolfer was our research assistant for the 2017 season. Caylen assisted in every aspect of the banding operation and developed her trapping and banding skills. We really appreciate the quality of work she did with data collection and the weekly reporting. We wish Caylen the very best as she seeks other professional opportunities. Caylen was provided with housing and a stipend for her time, made possible through a private donation.


Photo by DH Vockins


After an outstanding year in 2014, the harrier flight has been down for the past three seasons. This season’s total of 42 is the lowest number since 1992. In fact, since 1975 there have only been 3 years with fewer banded harriers. It is possible that this is part of a cyclic pattern. Looking back at the past 15 years of data, we have had 4 distinct peaks in capture numbers. Each was followed by 2 or 3 down years. Next season could be a new peak. However, it’s worth noting that the capture rate for each peak and subsequent set of down years has been progressively lower.



The Project banded 1201 accipiters. Cooper’s hawks remained the dominant species for the season with Sharp-shinned hawks second at 375.The Sharp-shin numbers are the lowest since 1971. 826 Coop’s banded is well below our ten year average of 1206.  No Goshawks were banded. Accipiters made up approximately 72 percent of our season’s banding total. Cooper’s made up 50 percent.


Photo by S Whittle


142 buteos were banded. After a very good flight last season, Red-tail numbers were down dramatically at 129 as compared to 340 last year. In a season with very few strong fronts moving through Cape May, there was no major Red-tail flight.  10 Red-shouldered hawks banded was also lower than last season but near their ten-year average of 13.6. The highlight of the season was the capture of a Swainson’s hawk and not one but two Rough-legged hawks. The last time we caught a Rough-legged was 1999. The last time we caught two was 1985. The last time we caught both a Rough-legged hawk and a Swainson’s in the same year was 1998.


Photo by J Ott


We banded 279 falcons including 39 American Kestrels, 148 Merlins and 92 Peregrines. Merlin and Kestrel numbers were lower than their ten-year average. Peregrine numbers were well above their ten-year average.





One Golden Eagle was captured on November 20. The only eagle trapped this season, it was banded and fitted with a cellular transmitter.

 Owl Project

Although the owl project operated 26 nights from October 20 through November 17, just 14 owls of 4 species were captured, 10 Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWO), two Long-eared Owls, one Eastern Screech Owl and one Barred Owl. Of the 10 Saw-whets caught, all were adults except one. In years like this, when few saw-whets are captured at Cape May, most are adults, but hatch year saw-whets dominate during the fall when large numbers of NSWOs are captured. So, the low total number of saw-whets likely reflects poor breeding season. One of the saw-whets was a Foreign Retrap, but the Bird Banding Lab (BBL) has not yet received the original banding data. The eastern screech owl was a Return. It was original banded in Cape May in 2016.


Returns and Foreign Recoveries

Returns are birds originally banded in Cape May that return at a later date to be recaptured by the Project’s banders. There was one Return this season. A hatching year female Cooper’s Hawk was originally banded on October 13, 2003 and was recaptured on October 20, 2017. We had two Foreign Recoveries( birds originally banded by others that were retrapped in Cape May) this year. A Cooper’s Hawk that was banded near Easton, CT and a Red-tail that was banded near Linthicum, MD.



Encounters are birds that were originally banded in Cape May by the Project that were later encountered by others at other locations. There were 61 such occurrences in 2017.   Only five species were represented in these encounters, with Cooper’s Hawks, as usual, being by far the most common, about 57% of the total.  Not surprisingly, more than 45% of these 2017 encounters were of birds originally banded in 2016, and two-thirds were of birds banded in the last three years.  Only five birds were banded more than 10 years ago.  The earliest banding that was encountered was of a Red-tailed Hawk banded in 1990 which was found dead in a yard in Mt. Vernon, New Jersey about 125 miles north of Cape May.  Banded in its hatching year, this individual was 27 years old when found, making it the fourth oldest Red-tail on record at Bird Banding Lab. As expected, more birds were encountered in New Jersey than in any other jurisdiction, about one-third. The most distant encounter was a Merlin banded in 2016 that was found injured four months later in Cuba about 1200 miles south of Cape May.


Banding Demos

Regularly scheduled banding demos were given at the Cape May Point State Park on Saturdays and Sundays and at the Nature Conservancy’s South Meadows from mid-September through October. Demonstrations were also provided at the state park for special events and for private groups. In all, 1037 visitors attended the presentations.

2017 Season Summary

Species 2017 Total 10-year Average
SSHA 375 616
COHA 826 1206
NOGO 0 5
NOHA 42 82
RSHA 10 13
BWHA 0 2
RTHA 129 243
SWHA 1 <1
RLHA 2 <1
AMKE 39 63
MERL 148 170
PEFA 92 68
GOEA 1 < 1