Category Archives: Owl Banding

Owl update: a steady stream (Sept 29-Oct 4)

Some tools of the trade: banding pliers; rulers for measurements; black light torch; Lucas the Spider plushie guarding the bands; coffee cup; bowls that serve no utility purpose but I like looking at them.

Welcome back to the banding station. Since my last update, owls were at a paucity, but now over the past week, movement has been picking up.

Back on Tuesday (Oct 1) I enjoyed the company of six owls, which was the season’s best night. This isn’t a particularly impressive number for early October, but I still felt like a lucky lady rich in owls after nearly two weeks of effort running the banding station with hardly any activity. Thursday night was similarly bountiful, at five owls.

Thanks to special permission from TC Energy and a little extra funding, last night we manned a new saw-whet owl audio lure net array one mile northeast from our original site. There was certainly some difficulty in running a second productive net array, but it did pay off with higher numbers of saw-whets and the first long-eared owl of the season. October 4th now holds the season best at 14 saw-whets, one long-eared, and one woodcock.

Forgive my anthropomorphism, but something I like about long-eared owls is how they carry this perpetually bewildered expression.

Sooooo~ we’ll see how this new net array goes! The habitat is open woodland, so there’s higher potential for the nets there to yield long-eared owls and barred owls.

Season totals are as such
Other guys: 1 woodcock, 1 whip-poor-will

Until next time,


Owl update: a lackadaisical trickle (Sept 25-28)

I suspected that Saturday night would bring a big push, as conditions were optimized for migration relative to these past warm and windy nights; at last, a night with temperatures dropping into the crisp 40’s and a gentle wind blowing from the north.

Instead, the most productive night of the season occurred on Wednesday, the 25th, with three owls. Since then, it’s been just a wee smattering of an owl or two each night, bringing our current total to eight owls.

Apparently, it’s been rather slow for other stations in the great lakes region. I wonder if the saw-whets are biding their time at a stop-over site somewhere, fueling up on prey items. Or have they hardly budged from their breeding grounds?

Monitoring movement trends over time is why dedicated biologists run banding stations. I look forward to learning more as fall migration unfolds.

Until next time,


The owl inside

Owl update: of all the woodland creatures (Sept 21-24)

I am happy to introduce our first netted critter of the season: an eastern whip-poor-will, met Monday night.

A delightfully peculiar critter.

This one hatched this spring, indicated by its set of juvenile flight feathers and wide buffy tinge to tail. I found it at the net array where the saw-whet owl audio lure is place – I wonder if the nightjar was attracted to the call as well, or just happened to amble along into the net by happenstance.

I must take a moment to profess my profuse adoration for nightjars, goatsuckers, frogmouths, nighthawks and the myriads of quirky common names.

Anyway, without further delay, I am also happy to introduce our first saw-whet owl, a girthy female (102 grams, an excellent weight) who also hatched this spring and is undertaking her first migration.

Noble and fierce little predator, the saw-whet owl.

Alas, these are the only two captured avians to report as of late. I believe migration is delayed this season due to the balmy weather, but perhaps a few more owls and friends will trickle into the station before cold fronts come and migration can start in earnest.

Last fall, there was speculation that it was a poor reproductive year because of regional population crashes of the red vole, which is a major prey resource for small owls. However, last night I encountered a small good omen:


I hope to see a higher proportion of healthy young owls stream down through the Straits.

Until next time,


Owl’s well that ends well…. That’s a Wrap Spring 2K19.. (Owl update)

Greetings once again MSRW followers and supporters. This blog will be the last blog I will be posting as our spring 2019 owl season has come to an end and even though it is over, it was a very successful season. Spring migration banding and surveys took place from March 20 to May 8 2019. 40 nights of banding/surveys resulted in the capture of 181 owls over the 50 day season; this included 156 newly banded Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) of which 15 were foreign recaptures and 2 were local recaptures that were originally banded by MSRW at Cheboygan State park in previous seasons, thus recaptures totaled 17. Other owl captures included 3 Barred Owls (Strix varia) and 5 Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) of which 1 was a foreign recapture. We were also able to band one American Robin (Turdis migratorius) and two Sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus).

This spring season in comparison is the second best spring season since 2015. The last four season’s totals are as follows; in 2015 there were 132 owls captured, while 2016 yielded 82 owls, 2017 yielded 175 owls and 2018 totaled 182. Although this season was very successful and we were open for 40 nights many of those nights were cut short as we had to deal with persistent winds and precipitation that was intermittent throughout the whole season.

It is sad once again to have to leave Northern Michigan but as always it’s been amazing! Hopefully I will make my way back up there again soon. But in the meantime as always stay classy folks and keep your eyes to the sky!

Season Totals: Total Birds: 181

NSWO: 156

LEOW: 5 (1 Foreign Recap)


Recaptures: 17 (NSWO)

OWlTASTIC: Owl update x4

Hello everyone! If you have just finished reading my above blog on the diurnal raptor banding update and enjoyed it then you will for sure be interested in this blog post regarding what has been going on during the owl surveys/banding in Cheboygan State Park over the past week or so. Since I last left off we have continued to capture Saw-whets but things are beginning to taper off as we approach the end of the migration and subsequently the end of the spring banding season.

Over the past 10 days we have had to battle adverse weather conditions and had lost 3 full nights of banding. We have also been battling strong winds from the North, East and the combination of northeast which is just the worst… and with all of these variables combined it has not facilitated great owl movement. However despite all of this our season continues to be quite successful in terms of owl species diversity, number of recaptures and number of saw-whets which is our target species. As I titled my last blog (spring of the recaptures) that continues to hold true as we continue to catch more and more recaps! Let me get you all caught up;

Since my last blog we have added another 4 recaptures, 3 of which have been saw-whets annnddd get this one was a Long-eared owl which is incredible since so few are banded the chance of getting a recapture is very uncommon. First let me tell you about the saw-whets before we talk about the long-ear. One of the recaps came to us yet again from Whitefish point we always seem to catch a lot of their birds which is great, this shows us that these birds are using the same migration pathway through Michigan year after year. We also netted another bird from Hilliardton, ON that was banded just this past fall not by me but by one of my friends that was with me up north so this was very cool to say the least! Finally our last saw-whet also hailed from Ontario and was banded this past fall in a town called Wheatley. This bird was a Hatch year last fall so it is great that she has survived her first migration as she heads back to the boreal forest to breed. Now the Long-eared owl we recaptured was originally banded back in April of 2017 at Whitefish Point. This is pretty neat as at that same time this bird was banded I was working here in Cheboygan state park with my good friend Arthur as we ran the owl protocol for MSRW a few years back. Now what was really cool about this recap was that back in 2017 this owl was aged as an after third year/female which is the oldest age you can assign a long-ear with confidence meaning this bird is at least 3 years old but it could be older. When we captured this bird we also aged this bird that same and this was based off of various plumage characteristics including replacement patterns of feathers in the wing along with patterns seen in the tail. Then we determined the sex of the long-ear based off of the plumage coloration in the underwing feathers. Needless to say we know from recapturing this bird that she is at LEAST 5 years old which is amazing! This bird may take the cake for the most exciting recap this spring but who know there is still a fair amount of time left in the season. We will just have to wait and see! Until next time we hope that we get a last push of owls and I will like always do my best to keep all you fine folks updated!

The Foreign Recap LEOW from Whitefish, this lass is at least 5 years old!

Season Totals: Total Birds: 175

NSWO: 151

LEOW: 4 (1 Foreign Recap)


Recaptures: 17 (NSWO)

And….. We’re off! Owl Mania 2k19

Greetings once again fellow MSRW supporters and followers! Since my last blog there has been a lot going on out here in Cheboygan and I’m here to catch all you fine folks up on the latest news. Brace yourself there is quite a lot… which is a good thing trust me! After starting off the season with a great push of owls it has only gotten better for us since the 22nd. Since then we have been consistently open every night and have only stayed closed on the 27th due to rain and on the 30th due to high winds.

In that time frame we have managed to capture 51 more Saw-whets. Our best night was on the 28th when we captured 22 birds. The previous night we were closed due to rain which probably helped us in the sense that owls don’t typically move in bad weather. Therefore the nice weather we had the following day created a big push of owls that night, which decided to wait out the rain before continuing north. This resulted in a great banding night here at the cabin. It is always exciting to have a big night so that we can stay busy through the long hours in which we normally just sit in the dark and watch the wood stove like a TV. Anyways, out of those 51 new saw-whets 4 of these ended up being recaptures, 3 foreign and 1 local. The local recapture turned out to be yet another bird that was originally banded here in Cheboygan State Park this past spring. We also had our 2nd foreign recapture via Whitefish Point and the other two were Canadian birds which were both quite exciting in their own respective ways! Let me give you the quick rundown. The first bird was originally banded at Long Point Bird Observatory in southern Ontario. This bird was interesting because it was banded their originally in the fall of 2017 and aged as an after second year bird, meaning it was at least three years old at that point. We captured it and aged it as an after third year bird which was the correct age assigned based on how it had replaced its feathers over the years…. man I’m good! BUT what that technically means is that this owl is at least 5 years old and she’s definitely clocked a lot of miles over the years migrating and probably has raised quite a few families along the way. It’s always awesome to catch older birds to learn more about their molt, longevity and migration routes.

Now for that other Canadian owl, this bird was banded this past fall in a small town called Hilliardton, which is located in the Boreal forest of Northern Ontario, now you might ask how I know all that. Well funny enough I spent all of 2018 at the Hilliardton Marsh Research & Education center as their intern assistant bander but I also helped run their fall owl protocol. So to me this is exciting that a bird I banded this past fall managed to get caught in one of our nets here in Cheboygan?!?! It’s crazy and exciting all at the same time. I guess she wanted to stop in and make sure I’m doing good, well thanks little lady I sure am and it was good to see that she was healthy and doing good as she continues north to the boreal forest to hopefully raise a family this summer!

This week we will also be putting out an audio lure for Long-eared owls (LEOW) out at our furthest nets in the hopes to capture more as they move through the area in the next few upcoming weeks. As my old boss in Hilliardton would say “If birds are business then business is goooddd!” We hope this great push of migrants continues and I will continue to give you all updates on what goes on out here in the woods! Until next time keep your eyes to the sky and stay classy folks!

Season Totals:

NSWO: 56

Recaptures: 6 NSWO

Total: 62

Spring is Here… Owl Style

Spring is here! 

Hello once again fellow MSRW supporters and followers! My name is Nick Alioto and I will be the lead owl bander for the spring 2019 season. For those of you who do not know me let me give you a rundown of my experience here with MSRW as this is not my first rodeo here!  It all started in 2017 when I was hired to be the assistant bander for the spring season. I loved it so much I decided to come back again to be the lead bander for the fall 2017 season! I then took a brief hiatus in 2018 to take on a new adventure in Canada. That being said I still thought about Northern Michigan and knew I would like to do one more season here and I am thrilled to be back yet again in an area that I consider to be my second home. Now enough about me let’s talk owls and migration shall we.

Checking the band number on the foreign recap.

Our protocol officially began on March 20th but me and my assistant (Andy) arrived here on the 18th to get settled in and set-up.  Now I would be lying if I said setting up was a little tougher than normal and this was due to all the snow accumulation here in the park. Nonetheless we persevered and had all the nets set up in a mere couple of hours and were ready to go. The first night of banding we were only able to stay open until 11:30 due to rain  but still managed to capture our first Northern saw-whet owl on the first day of spring… Coincidence I think not! On the 21st we were able to stay open almost the whole night until strong winds picked up round 4am. However while open we were able to capture 5 new NSWO and 2 Recaps. Then on the 22nd we were once again forced to shut down early due to strong winds however we managed to capture 3 more new NSWO. March is always unpredictable but we are certainly off to a good start despite it still being very early and having to deal with adverse weather every night that we have been open thus far. 

Now you must be thinking what about those recaps I mentioned earlier? Well lucky for you I have the information on both of them due to my diligence and commitment to doing a good job along with providing all the information to you fine folks who read this! Our first recap turned out to be a bird that was originally banded here in Cheboygan State park in the Spring of 2018 as a third year female, we aged it and sexed it as after third year female. The second bird we captured was our first foreign recapture for the season and this bird was originally banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Paradise Michigan in 2017 as Hatch year unknown bird. We aged and sexed it as a third year female; it is always exciting to capture other bander’s birds. Tonight looks like the first night that we will be able to be open all night and we are hoping that we will get a good push of migrants. Stay tuned for more updates from yours truly,

Nick Alioto

Season Totals:


Recaptures: 2 NSWO

Total: 11

Owl update: November 05-07

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,

Happy Owling!!!


Owl update: October 31 – November 4

The season is coming to a close, with tonight potentially being the last night I open as cold rain and snowfall seem to be on the weather’s agenda until November 10, the official end date for owl banding at Point la Barbe.

I’m not expecting to encounter any saw whet owl travelers tonight.  For the past week of being open, I caught an average of 1-2 birds per night.  Early season, I surmised that many birds were merely delayed due to the frequent storm fronts this fall, but with the lack of late season movement activity, I’m not so sure about that anymore.

It will be with deep reverie that I open and furl the mist-nets for possibly the final time before setting off on my own journey.  I don’t plan to head west to California just yet; first, I will sojourn at the Cape May Bird Observatory, NJ.  After that, I’ll get to see the east coast, then the west coast following a week of driving; the new perspective will be quite something.

Stay tuned for one last blog post in which I summarize our findings, totals for the season, and juicy tidbits about our foreign retraps as well as tidings of the birds I banded here getting caught elsewhere.

Until next time,


Hatch Year female caught the night of October 31

Champion of the “Stink Eye;” saw whet caught the night of November 3

November 3 was a cold one! The ditch water surface froze.

Owl update: October 27 – 30

What could be under the handkerchief?

it’s probably an owl

It’s a big, beautiful red-tailed hawk!  Such fluff and prominent markings.

This is a young bird; red-tail eyes can darken to a deep chestnut with age.

Reminds me of that scene in The Titanic but with less romance and more hawk

Recently, Ed and I set up a special trapping set designed to lure and safely net diurnal raptors.  Right now, diurnal raptor trapping isn’t a dedicated operation with MSRW but perhaps it will be someday!  Even still, it’s wonderful to capture and learn more about just a few of these hawks, falcons, and harriers as they pass through.

On the owl banding front, well… things are slowing down.  Nighttime weather has been clear and quite pleasant lately, but I only caught two birds on the 29th and was skunked last night.

Despite the paucity of saw whets, I met face to face with a bird I’ve been waiting for all season.  The White-Toed Saw Whet.

The leucistic toe is something else!  Perhaps it’s a birth mark?  All owls are special but this one was super special.

In honor of Halloween I’ll share this photo of a spooky saw whet owl.

Although… even being dramatically lit by the lantern, it’s not that spooky.  Saw whets are perhaps the least concerning creature to encounter in the heart of the wood at night.  They don’t really hoot, they toot.  In the spring, males will advertise their territory with a flutey toot-toot-toot call, and occasionally will mew (like a cat) and yap at trespassers in agitation.   These owls are a delight to find and hear while I do my springtime spotted owl work.

11 nights left!  I look forward to what the night brings.

Until next time,

– MH