Owl Diversity in Michigan

At MSRW’s Point LaBarbe owl-banding station, we have been catching three species of owls this fall – Northern Saw-whet Owls (our target species), Long-eared Owls, and Barred Owls. In past years, the fall banding station has also caught Boreal Owls, which we would be delighted to catch this year. The checklist of Michigan Birds lists 12 species that have been observed in the state. Can we hope to catch any of the other 8 species? The short answer is, probably not.

In the spring, MSRW operates an owl-banding station at Cheybogan State Park, which is at the north tip of the lower peninsula. Although very close to Pt. LaBarbe, the location and habitat is different enough to catch other owl species. Some nets at Cheybogan are set on the beach and occasionally catch Short-eared Owls, an open-country marsh and grassland bird. I saw a Short-eared Owl two nights ago on the road at Pt. LaBarbe but it was near the marsh and not near our nets which are set in gaps in the forest. So we are quite unlikely to catch a Short-eared Owl at our fall banding station because of the habitat where nets are located. Recently the Cheybogan spring banding has captured Eastern Screech-owls. This species is expanding its range northward in Michigan but has not been detected yet in the UP. So we probably are not going to catch one of these at Pt. LaBarbe. Great Horned Owls likely are around on both sides of the Straits in small numbers but they are not known to fly into nets at banding stations, even where they are common. Barn Owls are found in the southern part of the state and are also unlikely to make it into any of our nets on either side of the Straits.

The rest of the owl species on the Michigan list are very rare and/or occur in different seasons. The Upper Peninula hosts 3 species of winter owls – Snowy Owl, Great Gray Owl, and Northern Hawk-owl. Of these three, only the Snowy Owl occurs regularly, generally arriving in November or even later. The final species on the state list, the Burrowing Owl, is a vagrant from the Great Plains/western States with very few records in the state.

So we can reasonably expect just four species at our fall banding station. But that’s okay, we are capturing lots of owls, showing that at least some owl species migrate through the Straits in large numbers.

Owl-banding totals September 18th through October 22nd:

Northern Saw-whet Owl: 465

Long-eared Owl: 4

Barred Owl: 2

-Nancy Drilling, lead owl-bander

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