This year marks the tenth season of banding Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWO) at Hopkins Forest. Luckily for me, my friend John found out about it and got hold of Drew Jones who runs the research station. The researchers are collecting data from NSWO during their fall migration that begins in October and ends mid-November. They use an eerie audio-lure to call the birds in and almost invisible mist nets to snare these little owls. Data they collect is used to record the birds migration routes and timing, growth, survivorship and molt progressions.
The habitat of these small owls, Aegolius acadicus are coniferous forests and mixed coniferous and deciduous woods throughout North America. Their diet consists deer mice, toads and small animals. Although they are small, they are not the smallest owls.
The NSWO has a round, light, white face with brown and cream streaks with dark beaks and yellow eyes. They are cute and look like little toys. But they are raptors and have a formidable constitution, they can scratch and tear at skin if you don’t hold them correctly. The color of the yellow in the eyes ranges from bright to almost brown. Females have the brighter yellow eyes. They have no ear tufts, but the ear slits are huge and offset as in all owls. This way they can triangulate the sound they hear, enabling them to be very good hunters. They also have big eye sockets, that don’t turn, so the entire head turns with the sound and sight.
We parked in the lower lot as told. It was dark. So dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. While getting out of the car I grabbed my flashlight, but couldn’t manage to turn it on. John used his phone to light up the switch. It was my battery charger, not a flashlight. So much for that.
The night was cold and crystal clear. The stars, there were a blue million of them. We followed the sound of the owl call up to the building to meet Drew and the crew. Then we hiked out into the forest with head lanterns. We didn’t go far. In the net were three owls. They were swiftly placed in blue bags and brought back to the research station, aka, the tool shed.
The birds were weighed, head first in a tin can. Yes a soup can. It was a funny sight, but it works. They stay still. Then they had their wings measured, their eye color checked, the new feathers were counted. Then the bird was placed under a UV light where the new feathers glowed a pretty pink. Interesting. Wonder if that works for chickens too? Their beaks were measured, amount of body fat and skin color were recorded. Then they were banded. All three we caught that night were females. One was previously banded and a Canadian research station.
We then hiked a little way from the shed and the nets and released them into the woods, back to their migration to the south. Good luck to our little feathered friends.