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  • Writer's picturePam Narney

Osprey Banding in Colonial Beach, VA

Volume 2: Issue 9

Osprey Mom over her nest. Photo by Ken Smith

Contributing Author: Ken Smith

On June 20, 2022, Osprey enthusiasts met at Torrey Smith Park in Colonial Beach, Virginia, for the banding of Osprey nestlings.

A Group Effort

· Joanie Millward organized the event to benefit Colonial Beach Greenspace for the purchase of a Colonial Beach Osprey cam.

The smile says it all. Joanie holding an Osprey!

· Todd Dalton, from Dominion Energy, donated his time, expertise, and the bucket truck to snatch the babies from their nests above the power poles.

· Ken Smith, a federally licensed raptor bander from Prince George’s County, Maryland, banded the birds and gave the spectators information about Osprey chicks.

Todd Dalton and Ken Smith discussing logistics?

The Process

Osprey nests selected depended on ease of access and the age and size of the nestlings.

There is a small window of opportunity, age (typically when the chicks are about three and one-half to five weeks old, and size to band the young Ospreys.

The Torrey Smith Park Nest

Dalton parked the Dominion Energy bucket truck under the first nest. To avoid injury, Dalton put on his leather gloves, hard hat, and safety harness. Osprey are raptors and have strong beaks and very sharp talons

Joanie Millward handed him tote bags- strong cloth bags with handles.

Todd Dalton captures an Osprey for banding Photo by Ken Smith

Dalton climbed into the truck, raised the bucket, reached into the nest, pulled a chick out, and safely placed it in a tote bag. He is so experienced that the first chick was in the bag before anyone could get a picture.

He captured two chicks one at one time, putting each chick in its own bag. The faster everyone worked, the less stressed the chicks and the circling parents would be.

Smith checks on the bird's condition.

Everybody is excited to see the nestling.

Volunteers carried the bagged chicks to Ken Smith at a table, where he set up his banding equipment. He had no gauntlets for his hands. Smith works barehanded to allow the dexterity to safely handle the young birds and to manipulate the band, pliers, etc. He remarked that occasionally a bander will get “nailed” by adult raptors. Once he removed talons from a friend’s hand.

Band me?

Smith’s experience shows. Quickly and efficiently, he laid the chick on the table with a lightweight cloth over its head. The cloth reduces stress. By blocking the bird’s vision, the nestling remains calm, thus preventing any feather damage and facilitating banding. The idea is to work expeditiously with no injury to the bird or bander.

Smith works fast. He attaches a small individually numbered aluminum leg band and talks about Ospreys while he works.

Each bird band has a unique number and is sized to fit a certain species. An Osprey will get a # 8 size band. A person with a good spotting scope or digital camera can often read the numbers. Sometimes colored bands are used in conjunction with special studies or projects.

The band goes on

The band is secured


It doesn’t hurt a chick to have a band on its leg.


With Ken's patient assistance, Pam Narney holds a banded chick. Photo by Ken Smith

Smith explained, “We hold the chicks like this, with our hands gently restraining the bird’s wings while securing the legs and feet between a couple fingers, to keep the birds from moving anxiously and injuring their developing feathers, which are known as blood feathers.”

Flight feathers

When a feather first erupts from the bird’s skin it is called a blood feather because it carries blood. These feathers are the most susceptible to injury.

If the feathers do not develop as they should or are damaged, the bird may be missing one of its original flight feathers until a new one grows in. With damaged or missing feathers, the bird may not survive.

Primary feathers are the last to develop before the Osprey fledges. They are the “fingertip feathers”, the longest on a bird’s wing and the farthest away from the body when the wing is extended.

Osprey feet and talons

Holding the Osprey's feet, Smith explained that the outer toe on each foot is reversible so an Osprey can maneuver fish head-first for aerodynamic flight advantage. He pointed out the barb-like spicules on the sides of the toes. These adaptations help Osprey catch and carry captured fish.

The Second Nest

At the second nest site, mom strafed Dalton as he removed three chicks from her nest.

Look out,Todd.

Todd ignores Momma Osprey.

Smith banded the two largest chicks first. He placed the band on the last chick’s leg, squeezed it closed, and wiggled the band around. The band was loose. If the band is too loose it might catch on sticks. The last chick was considered too small by Smith to safely band.

Smith emphasized that the well-being of the birds and their considered conservation are most important.

At both nests, the parents returned as soon as Dalton put the chicks back into the nests.

I got it!

Safely back in their nest Photo by Ken Smith

Mom and her chcks are reunited

A job well done!

Why Band Birds?

Data collected from banded birds reveals their flight patterns in migration, their return to nests, their feeding patterns, and their longevity. One banding study tracked migratory patterns down the east coast of the United States. This data helped keep off-shore wind turbines outside of known migratory routes, in order to prevent injuries to migratory birds.

Ken Smith

A Torrey Smith fan!!

Ken Smith has made raptors and their conservation status his specialty. Smith and his friend Craig Koppie, recently retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, teamed with the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia to rescue a Cooper’s hawk trapped in The Library of Congress in January 2011.

The hawk was sent to rehabilitation and later returned to the wild. This is but one of a number of rescues Smith made over the years.

For more information on Osprey banding visit the USGS Bird Banding Lab and Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MA. Website. Bird Banding Lab


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