Biologists across the world tag thousands of birds each year with unique leg bands, giving identities to individual birds. Sightings of these banded birds help researchers answer questions about bird movements, lifespans, and survival. In Marco Island, you can find banded birds that live here year-round, and “snowbirds” that only visit for the winter. Here, we share the story of one banded bird found in Marco Island.
Meet “RX-YK” the Burrowing Owl
There are many different and fascinating mating systems in the bird world: some species mate for life, some are polygynous with multiple females for each male, some are polyandrous with multiple males for each female, and many species are “socially” monogamous, with a pair of birds raising chicks together, but sneaking off to mate with others at night. Burrowing owls are about as close to truly monogamous as you can find in the bird world and tend to mate for life, though will sometimes “divorce” or will find a new mate if their first dies.
Owl “Red/Metal-Yellow/Black,” or RX-YK, is part of an unusual pairing. Banded as a chick last year, RX-YK is only a year old and nested for the first time this year- with his mother! Both of his parents were banded last year, but at some point last winter, his father disappeared. RX-YK never left home to dig his own burrow, and instead mated with his mother, who also has unusually dark eyes. They raised three chicks together, all of which were banded and were all a healthy weight and size.
This is a great example of what we can learn by banding birds: without the bands on RX-YK’s legs, we never would have known he mated with his mother. Many different animals commonly mate with their siblings or parents, though we don’t know how common it is in burrowing owls. This find is another small piece of the puzzle to better understanding burrowing owl behavior and natural history. All sightings of banded birds help us – send us a note if you’ve seen one!
Have you seen a banded bird? Send a photo or description to Audubon Florida biologist Adam DiNuovo at firstname.lastname@example.org.