This week there has been a banded Red-tailed Hawk fledgling in Washington Square Park. I have photographs of it from August 5th (when I missed that it had a band), and other blogers have pictures of the bird from later in the week.
It has an unusual I.D. band. Rather than being a silver band, it is an auxiliary marker that we normally see on Peregrine Falcons or rarer birds in this area. It has large numbers and is color coded to allow researchers to read the numbers in the field using a spotting scope.
The number is NJ 30 on a dark colored band with a yellow line running around the band. NJ is above the line in small yellow letters and the 30 is in large vertical yellow type below the line, repeated twice on the band.
This banded bird is a mystery. Is it an early migrant who has already left home and has ended up in the park? Or is it one of the fledglings who might have gotten banded on a short adventure away from home? Banding programs exist as close as the Meadowlands in New Jersey, which is only ten miles away, so this is a possibility.
For more information about bird banding in the United States, visit the Federal Bird Banding Laboratory website of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the USGS. Under the menu, About Banding, you'll find information about standard bands and auxiliary markers.
Banders only have to report their band usage yearly, so it might take some time to figure this puzzle out.
Update 8/14/13: Follow up by members of the WSP Hawk watching community has solved part of this riddle. The band NJ 30 was placed on the bird at Teterboro Airport, Tererboro NJ on July 13th as part of a Bird Air Strike Research project. Teterboro is the "celebrity airport" for NYC, where many small corporate jets land. It is about 9 miles away from Washington Square Park.
Although the bird was banded at Teterboro, it was released in Central New Jersey about 60 miles away from the airport. It may or may not be a Washington Square Park fledgling. Either way, this young bird certainly has had an adventure very early in life!