A Day in the Life of a Raptor Ecologist: Baby Birds with a Powerful Bite

George Swan, a PhD student at Exeter University, UK, recounts his daily climbing adventures with buzzard chicks!

My research involves climbing up to nests of common buzzards (Buteo buteo), to collect data on how often the parents bring food to the chicks, and what sort of prey they prefer. Young birds with big beaks – they give me plenty to think about.

I start my day by going through my calendar and making a list of all the nests I need to visit. I visit nests when the chicks are 18-25 days old and install tiny cameras that film the parents every time they bring food to the chicks.

This age range is the perfect period, when chicks are large enough to control their temperature, but small enough to be handled easily.

I avoid visiting nests in bad weather as I don’t want to disturb the chicks when they are already cold. This means that on sunny days in late spring, I have to be super organised! With my target nests selected, I load the truck with all my climbing and camera gear and head out.

Once I’ve reached a nest, it usually takes 45 minutes to complete everything I need to do. I start by firing a weight
attached to some string over a strong branch high up in the tree using a huge catapult. When the weight drops down the other side, I attach my climbing rope and pull it up and over. Then I hoist myself up the rope, climb to the nest, install the camera and assemble a recording box at the base of the tree. I try and climb three nests before lunch, and then another two or three in the afternoon.

Such work can be physically demanding, it is a struggle to climb more than six nests in a day. By dark, I am back at the
storeroom where I clean all the gear, check the weather for the next day and get ready to start all over again.

This article is from issue

10.1

2016 Mar