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Friday, October 11, 2013

Owls, Skunks & Beavers: NBNC at night

Working the night shift at the North Branch Nature Center definitely has its perks. Last night was our inaugural night of saw-whet owl banding and these tiny migratory owls did not disappoint. Soon after sunset we opened two mist nets down by the river and, in the span of 3 hours, we caught 4 of these pint-sized owls. Not bad at all, considering we had no idea if we'd catch any at all or even if they migrate through the area.

Northern Saw-whet Owls nest all over Vermont but migrate through the state in much greater numbers. Drawn in by an audio lure of the male's territorial song, banders catch the curious owls with nets that resemble volleyball nets. After banding each bird with a small aluminum band, observing and taking some measurements to determine age and sex, the owls are released to continue their migration.

Why band migratory Northern Saw-whet Owls? It wasn't until 1906 that scientists even knew that these owls were migratory and today much of their behavior is still a mystery. With banding stations throughout their range, however, scientists can gain insights into the timing of their migration, their migratory routes and overwintering areas, and their population cycles and trends. We are excited to be able to contribute to this effort to better understand this secretive, seldom-seen species. And do I even need to point out that these diminutive owls are certainly among the cutest animals on the planet?!

In between net checks, other creatures of the night kept us entertained. We had the pleasure of listening to Barred Owls in the distance, beavers plunking their tails in the river and even a skunk exploring the perimeter of the barn. Yes, working nights has its benefits!

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