Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Putting on Transmitters

When it came time to put the tail-mounted transmitters on the owlets before their release, I really wanted someone with some experience to help put them on.  I knew they were supposed to be sewn onto the central two tail feathers, but I figured a voice of experience could make the process go so much smoother.  Thankfully Bob Anderson and Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project were willing to take a good chunk of time to lead this project, despite being busy with the Decorah Eagle Cam.

Bob is a very thorough person.  He brought along an extremely solid thread used to repair wetsuits that "you can tow a car" with, according to Bob.  It simply won't break down.  He asked for all kinds of materials from us: alcohol, a squirt bottle, epoxy, towels, needles, boxes, and more. He walked all four of us through how the process would go before we ever went out to get the first bird.  We were ready.

Catching the owlets wasn't too hard, although more difficult than their parents.  The owlets didn't stay in the net when they flew in...they tried to get out right away, and all succeeded at least once.  Patrick was the first to be caught and telemetered, if that's a verb.

I carried him in, his feet were taped with painter's tape to make sure he didn't foot Amy, who would be doing "foot holding" duty.  His head was covered with a towel, he was laid on his belly, and I gently restrained his wings and upper body while Amy held his feet.

Bob separated the central two tail feathers and exposed the lower portions of their shafts. Hein sewed the thread through the four holes of the transmitter around the feather shafts, one piece of string wrapped several times around each shaft per hole.  This was seriously a four person job.

Bob put epoxy on each knot at the end, we let it dry, and then Patrick was put into a box until we finished with the girls.

Each of the girls went through the same process.  Bob was amazed at how well behaved they were compared to Peregrines.  Patrick didn't struggle at all, and each of the girls only had one squirm session.

When all of the owlets were outfitted with their new bling and we had recorded which owl had which frequency transmitter, we carried them all back to their flight pen.  We saved Patience, the last of the bunch, the insult of going into a box...I simply carried her out with a towel on her head.

We released them one by one and they all settled immediately onto their perches, ear tufts straight up to tell us they were not happy campers.

We'll keep the owlets a few more days to make sure there are no issues with them wearing the transmitters.  Then on Friday evening we'll open the door to the world and let them go.  I expect they'll come back into the flight to mooch food for a while until they're confident on their own, so we'll probably still get glimpses of them.  And there's also a chance we might finally get to see Rhett and Delilah on cam too.

It'll be exciting and a great learning experience to see where they go and how far they stray...and if Victor hooks up with one of the girls.  He's been single over a year, so he should be in the market....


  1. Thank you so much for this, Karla! Really interesting to know and see how this was done. Also the music in the video is perfect!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this with us Karla.

  3. All the Best of Luck to the Owlets as the venture out into the Big World.

  4. Thank you for the great video. It was interesting to see how a transmitter is attached.

  5. Thanks, Karla, for the video and blog. I'm happy for your success so far in your research projects, I'm excited for the owlets about to realize their freedom, and a little sad for all of us that they are soon to be leaving us. But that is how it should be. Stay safe little owls.

  6. I found myself thinking, Karla has the best life. This is all going to be so exciting. Thanks for letting us watch.