Thursday: Readers’ wildlife photos

Well, it looks as if I screwed up and published TWO wildlife photo posts today. But no problem: surely the more nice photos to look at, the better. Besides, I’m lecturing in Portland today and won’t have a lot of time to post.

Reader Joe McClain of Williamsburg, Virginia (alma mater of Presidents and Professor Ceiling Cat, Emeritus) sent some photos from that lovely town. They show the fascinating process of catching, measuring, and banding a bald eagle chick.

This is eagle nesting season and your alma mater is right in the thick of it. Do you remember Mitchell Byrd? He is doing his 40th year of eagle census flights this year. [JAC: Yes, of course I remember Dr. Byrd, who was not only chairman of biology when I was in college, but was fortuitously named—he’s an ornithologist!]

I got email over the weekend from Bryan Watts at the Center for Conservation Biology, founded here at William & Mary by Watts and Byrd. They have a grant from the National Park Service to look into the level of contaminants in eagles on National Parks lands. Bryan was going to have a crew Monday morning at a site near the neighborhood where we both live. Of course, I went on out. Here are some photos of the process, which may be of interest to you and/or your readers.

Aerial technician Shane Lawler climbs a 90-foot loblolly pine on the grounds of Gospel Spreading Farm outside Williamsburg. At the top is a nest occupied by a family of Haliaeetus leucocephalus.


Bryan Watts awaits delivery of a bagged eagle chick. The parents were flying around Shane, but not getting really close as he extracted the little guy.


It’s a five-week-old male. Eagles don’t fledge fully until 12 weeks old. This fella was pretty calm. Bryan told me that males are more laid back than females.


Bryan (blue) and Bart Paxton attend to the banding. Bald eagles require riveted bands, as they tend to pick off other types. As with most birds, there is a USGS band and a field-ID band, in this case, an alphanumeric purple band.


Many measurements, including the hallux (the thumb talon), the tarsus (the ankle) and several beak measurements including the culmen.


Before the blood draw, Bart hooded the bird. Once the hood was on it looked like the little eagle fell asleep, just drooped on over.


Getting ready for the draw, the eagle looked like one of those Mexican luchadore wrestlers getting revived after a hard bout.


Marie Pitts, raptor phlebotomist, does the draw from the brachial vein.


The chick was out of the nest less than half an hour, tops. The team hit a number of nests on Monday. Jamestown Island currently has five bald eagle nests on it. There are eagles nesting quite near (but not on) campus and they come right on campus more often there is a video of an eagle eating a rabbit in a tree near the Wren Building.

And I’ll add three photos from Stephen Barnard in Idaho, one showing the species above. The captions are his:

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on the nest.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus). He’s looking at Deets.


Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) hunting midges in the creek.




  1. Posted April 21, 2016 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photos and stories, thanks!

  2. Mark P
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Love these. How do I email pics to Prof. Coyne?

    • Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      The readers may tell you, but Google my name and “University of Chicago,” and my work homepage, with my email address, should come up. Or simply click “research interests” in the upper right corner of the page, which takes you to my page with the email address.

  3. Randy Schenck
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Very pretty area there around Williamsburg and a forest of trees. Part of the Historic triangle if you are looking for a good vacation spot.

  4. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    That was really neat. There has gotta be a cartoon somewhere about birds going on a bender, and wondering how they got their leg bands.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I’m sure Pliny is listening.

      • Sabine
        Posted April 24, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        Alien abduction 😉

  5. Blue
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Perfect Earth Day / Week / Always – banding piece.

    I am passing this one along to very many others.

    My thanks.

  6. darrelle
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Williamsburg is indeed a lovely town. We were there just this past November visiting my brother, who lives there, for Thanksgiving.

    Very nice photos all. I wouldn’t mind working on the crew doing the eagle census, not at all.

  7. George
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    In the picture where the eagle is being readied for the blood draw, I thought of the Maltese falcon, not a Mexican luchadore wrestler.

  8. Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Great photos!

    Dr. Byrd, the ornithologist… love it. I once had a nurse in hospital whose surname was Nurse. Unforgettable.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      I know a dentist whose last name is Dodrill. My daughters’ orthodontist was Dr. Aw.

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    In the list of professors with appropriate names, one should always cite the famous old time entomologist Sir Vincent Wigglesworth.

    • Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Or the entomologist Bob Bugg

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      I once had a lawyer who was Robin Banks.

  10. dorcheat
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The pictures of the kildeer near the water are very interesting as these birds prefer open grassy and sparsely wooded areas. Obviously this particular specimen has located a niche with plentiful food as well as a ready water supply.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted April 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      They pick off insects floating on the water (mostly midges this time of year). You can see the one the bird is aiming at. Song Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, and no doubt other birds do the same thing.

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Great set of photos.
    Having been talking Industrial Rope Access yesterday, I would expect the climber in the first photo to be putting his first rebelay on soon. Saves disturbing the leaf litter with blood and swear words.
    On the bird measurements, I guess the ankle size should be closely related to the bird mass (* a safety factor). Anyone else know the purposes of the other dimensions recorded?

  12. Taz
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    As someone who’s never seen an eagle close up, I was amused at my change in perspective between the third and fourth photos:

    “Oh look, a cute little baby bird.”

    “Okay, that baby bird ain’t so little!”

  13. Bob Bottemiller
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    So, Dr. Byrd is an ornithologist. The jokers at New Scientist magazine have a long running series in their humor page about careers matching names. They call it “nominative determinism” — one is forced into a profession by the chance of birth name. No free will!

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      You mill bottes, then?

  14. Diane G.
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Great pics and commentary! Thanks, Joe & Stephen!

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