On a clear, cool October night, as you sleep in your bed, owls are flying over your home. It is the migration season for the Northern Saw-whet Owl, and the North Branch Nature Center is joining a partnership of researchers around the country to study this small, secretive bird. NBNC piloted two banding stations this fall on the Nature Center’s property in Montpelier and in Shelburne, VT.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are just barely bigger than a soda can (but only a third of the weight). They hunt the forest for mice while trying to avoid predators such as Barred Owl, which could easily eat them. Saw-whets are named after their monotonous song: a continuous rendition of whistles that resemble the noise made when a saw is being sharpened. The owls are strictly nocturnal and despite being relatively common, are rarely seen.
|An owl getting its wing measured, photo by Brian Jenkins|
At the banding stations, owls are caught using special nets, measured, and banded before being released. The age of the owl is determined by examining the bird’s flight feathers. Gender is calculated using the wing length and weight. Through banding, we hope to contribute to the growing understanding of the Saw-whet’s migration. Learn more about how we band owls.
|Map showing where previously banded owls had been captured|
We have already had some interesting findings this season! On Thursday evening, Oct. 24, two owls were caught that already had bands around their legs. The first one was banded last fall at a well-known birding destination called Hawk Mountain, 300 miles southwest in Pennsylvania. The second one was banded just 16 days earlier in Montreal, Canada. These two birds, caught half an hour apart, have shed some light on the migratory routes of owls as they travel throughthe Champlain Valley during their journey from the north to the south.
|Photo by Brian Jenkins, 3rd Stone Images|
The public has also been invited to observe banding both in Montpelier and Shelburne. To date, over 150 people have visited the banding stations to learn about and see owls. In between owls, guests have a chance to experience the outdoors after dark. Wildlife abounds in the night forest, and we’ve seen many wonderful creatures on our late nights outside: skunk, opossum, barred owl, coyote, gray treefrog, porcupine, beaver… and shooting stars. And most importantly, visitors get a chance to see science in action and deepen their understanding of and appreciation for the natural world.