Owl banding season is off to a fast start!

The owl-banding season at Point Labarbe typically runs from September 20th to November 10th, which should cover the entire migration period of Northern Saw-whet Owls (“saw-whets”). Usually the season starts slowly and the first few nights, banders sit around struggling to stay awake and hoping for a bird or two. Not so this year! Ed Pike and Shannon Dolan did a warm-up banding session on the 19th and caught an amazing 10 saw-whets. And they just keep coming – 110 saw-whets in 8 nights.

Long-eared Owl. Captured Sept. 23, 2020 at MSRW’s Point Labarbe owl banding station. Photo by Kandace Glanville

On September 23rd, we were delighted to catch the first Long-eared Owl of the season (see photos). This is quite early for this species. In owls, males tend to be smaller than females but there is broad overlap in the sizes of males and females. This bird was intermediate in size so we could not determine its sex. By examining details of the barring on some of its feathers, we determined that this bird was at least three years old.

Underwing of Long-eared Owl. Photo by Kandace Glanville

We keep the nets open, weather permitting, from dusk to first light, currently for about 11 hours. In the first few nights of the season, rain has shortened our efforts on two nights. September owl captures so far:

19th: 10 saw-whets

20th: 5 saw-whets

21st: 12 saw-whets

22nd: 22 saw-whets

23rd: 18 saw-whets, 1 Long-eared Owl

24th: 5 saw-whets (short night)

25th: 8 saw-whets

26th: 5 saw-whets (short night)

27th: 25 saw-whets

28th: rained out

The Point Labarbe fall banding station usually captures 300 – 400 saw-whets in a season. At this pace, we will capture more than this in Fall 2020. Saw-whet populations fluctuate widely among years, with peak abundance occurring every four years. This may be one of those peak years. Or, maybe it is a ‘normal’ year in terms of numbers but the migration has shifted earlier. Only time will tell! Stay tuned …..