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Alfie Kākā observes banding day

Alfie Kākā observes banding day

Alfie Kākā here, enjoying a warm Sunday morning at Zealandia. We kākā have had millions of years to get used to this place, and the local saying “you can’t beat the valley on a good day” has never been more true.

Gliding idly over the western scarp I see some activity near young Aroha Kākā’s nest so I fly down to a tree a little distance away where I can observe without being seen. I see Aroha perched in a tree nearby, and a little farther away, her mate GB-B. I can see two men and a woman standing close by the nest, and below them on the ground, a backpack, some tools, and a clipboard. I’ve seen this set-up before. Banding Day. Aroha’s three chicks are to be measured, feathers sampled, and legs banded. It is just starting for them.

A man opens the door to the nest box, reaches in and gently lifts out a young chick.

The chick is very calm, with just a small wriggle as it is transferred to a cloth bag, held by the woman who then closes the top of the bag. I think I remember what’s going to happen next. Yes. A voice says “bag and chick, 560 grams”. Another voice repeats it and adds “and the bag was 45 grams, right?”

The chick is then taken out of the bag, and held softly on the woman’s lap, while the man leans over with a pair of callipers, and voices call and respond like some old Nestorian chant as the other man writes them down.

‘Bill length 37.3’
‘Bill length 37.3’
‘Bill width 13.2’
‘Yes, bill width 13.2’

And so on through to wing length right (177), tail length (101), tarsus right (35.8), and then a slight pause…

‘Relative age based on plumage…youngest’
‘Youngest’

Banding day for this nest. The youngest was first and is now sitting quietly as expert hands fold the coloured steel and aluminium rings around his legs, and clamp them closed. Black on the left leg, white over red on the right. K-WR.

Now he’s held while an informal portrait is taken and is gently put back in the nest.

As he is returned to the nest, I remember what my old Birdism teacher, Heizenbird, told us about observers and uncertainty. It was confusing at the time, but I see it now. The humans measured the chick with skill and care, but the chick they put back in the warm dark nest is not the same as the one they took out. In twelve minutes K-WR was given a new identity, and took for himself a new view of his world. He was observed closely and precisely by three humans, and he made his own observations of them. For now he’s back in the nest. In two weeks time he’ll climb out never to return, and with Aroha’s help, learn to fly.

Story by Alfred Kākā.
Aroha Kākā observes the nest closely.
GB-B is Aroha’s mate.
Opening the door to the nest.
The chick is transferred to a cloth bag.
Measuring tarsus length with a pair of calipers Expert hands fold the bands over his legs.
Clamping the bands closed. Photos by Alfred Kākā.
An informal portrait before returning to the nest (main image). Photo by Bronwen Shepherd.

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