‘Tis The Season

Greetings From Cheboygan,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Arthur Sanchez Jr. and I am the lead owl bander with MSRW for spring migration. Over the past couple of years I have been trained by master banders at Humboldt Bay Bird Observatory in Northern California. Throughout my training at HBBO I have had the opportunity to supervise banding operations at two different MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) stations within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as well as leading and organizing owl banding at my home station. I recently graduated from Humboldt State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in wildlife management and conservation biology. This season I am working along side the assistant owl bander Nick Alioto, a recent biology graduate from Bishop University in Lennnoxville, Quebec, Canada.

March 20th was our first night of owl banding. It was rather slow and we only captured two Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus). Out of our two captures that night, we had one unbanded bird and a recapture. A bird that we consider to be a recapture already has a band on it from previous banding operations. The recapture bird was an ATY (After Third Year) female. When banders age a bird ATY, it is essentially saying that we do not know the definitive age of the individual, but we do know that bird is at least in it’s fourth calendar year of living. After we contacted our boss, Ed Pike, we gave him the recapture band number to see if it was a bird that MSRW has banded in the past. It turns out that our first recapture bird of the season was banded in central Indiana in 2014.

Our protocol calls for running mist nets from dusk to dawn. Mist nets are a common trap used to capture birds and bats as well. Through out the night, we will routinely check the nets for any owl captures. When birds are captured, the process of taking them out of the net is dubbed an extraction. After the bird is extracted with every precaution necessary, they are transported to our banding lab where they are processed and then released. On our first night of banding, we observed a Barred Owl (Strix varia) perched high in a White Pine (Pinus strobus) in between net rounds. On the night of March 24th we were pleasantly surprised to hear the spring calls of American Woodcocks and Common Nighthawks as we were opening nets. Again, this was a rather slow night with only two NSWO captures. As we arrived to the last net during our closing round, we had a special treat in the net as we captured a Ruffed Grouse.

Due to the weather being uncooperative, we’ve only been able to sneak in a couple of full banding nights. Since the night of March 20th, we now have a total of 1 recap, and 9 newly banded birds. Most of the NSWOs that we have been capturing are females with the ages ranging from SY (Second Year) to ATY. At this time of year, we are coming across some very unique molt patterns within the primary and secondary feathers. NSWOs are almost exclusively aged by molt limits within the flight feathers. Molt limits are defined as the differentiation between old retained and newly replaced feathers, exhibiting different generations of feathers. Molt is one of my favorite topics in avian ecology and we are excited to see more molt patterns as birds are passing through. We are anticipating more birds in the near future as spring migration picks up.