Today at Kingsford

Northern Saw-whet Owl

A couple weeks ago, Dan applied for his Master Bander permit, and last week it was approved. Dan has been banding for some 15+ years, and is one of the most skilled, conscientious and research-oriented banders I know (our relationship naturally has nothing to do with this bias, of course…). Master permits are not handed out lightly, as you need not only a wealth of knowledge and experience, but also a worthy project for the Bird Banding Office to justify giving you a permit to band birds independently. Both of us previously held subpermits under a Master permit held by someone else at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, for the bird research station project in Toronto. Because the TRCA’s projects are confined to Toronto, we needed our own permit to be able to do research here.

Dan’s initial plans include three primary projects, the first, and soonest, of which is migratory owl monitoring. The only species of owl that migrates in large numbers is the diminutive Northern Saw-whet Owl. The grown adult is one of the smallest owl species on the continent, and certainly the smallest here in the east, only about the size of your outstretched palm. They breed in boreal and montane mixed forests, but move south in the fall. This movement, plus the fact that they respond to tape broadcasts of their call, makes them easy to monitor through banding studies, and there are many stations and individuals across North America who go out every night in the fall to see who’s passing through. Banding is a quick and painless procedure (the aluminum band goes around the leg, like a permanent bracelet, rather than attaching to the bird), and is generally over in just a minute or two for the birds with a minimum of stress. Yet it provides us important information on population sizes, demography (age and sex ratios), the relative success of the breeding season, and other data that can be very helpful in monitoring the owl populations and, through them, the ecosystems they are a part of.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

We set up our mistnets on our property a couple days ago and have caught three saw-whets in two nights (running just a few hours each night). This is an excellent capture rate for these little birds, and we have high hopes about what we might find this fall. Undoubtedly you’ll see another post on owls in the next couple of weeks, which will go into more detail on these delightful and remarkable creatures. (For one, they’ve got oodles of personality – check out the expressions of these two different individuals, both telling me what they think of the whole experience).

(Incidentally, I had planned to post this last night after I got home from working the Canadian election – a long day, at some 13 hours start to finish, but one that at least goes quickly. Not long after my return home at 10pm, the puppy chewed through the telephone cord that connects the computer to the internet. I felt that was a sign I should just go to bed, tired as I was, and we worried about replacing it this morning.)