Owl banding at MSRW this fall has come to a close. Since running the station from September 19 through November 07, we captured a total of 115 northern saw whet owls, 2 barred owls, and 1 long eared owl.
8 of the saw whet owls were already banded at other stations. These are called foreign re-traps. Most of the foreign retraps were fairly local, with 2 banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, 1 at Cheboygan, and another 2 at Hilliardton Marsh in Ontario. One saw whet was banded far far away, in the distant lands of Maryland! That’s crazy-cool. We’re still waiting to get word on the other two foreign re-trap owls.
It is very exciting when one of our banded birds gets caught elsewhere. On October 6 I banded an adult female saw whet owl, Miss 1104-43131, and 20 nights later she was captured again at Indiana Dunes State Park. That’s a straight-line distance of 310 miles! Although I suspect she took a more leisurely route along the east side of Lake Michigan, stopping often to wait out the weather and catch juicy mice, small birds, and insects.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers. Those 115 saw whet owls consisted of 81 females, 7 males, and 27 owls of unknown sex. Profoundly higher female to male ratio is common at banding stations. While the reason for this isn’t definitive, It is widely held that male owls tend to stick to their natal territories, and female owls migrate south. Interestingly, only about a third of the owls were Hatch Years (hatched this spring), and the rest were adults.
This season’s saw whet owl total is well below our historic average, but documenting declining populations is part of why full-time banding stations are so essential. The Upper Peninsula was often fraught with inclement weather, possibly causing many birds to take a totally different course altogether; however, I believe the the ratio of young birds to adult birds indicates that it was just a bad reproductive year for saw whet owls populations who generally migrate through the Straits.
I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful owls and people, which has made fall 2018 a very fun and successful season for me!
Until next time,