10 Recoveries Highlight Owl Banding Season

By November 12, 2013Science

Tuesday, Dec. 17 update: Make that 11! After this post was first published, biologist Nancy Drilling banded a few more nights at RMBO’s station in Custer National Forest, where she recovered an 11th owl. Also, she found out where the previously unknown recovered owl was first banded. See below for an updated map and original locations of all 11 recovered owls.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

This Northern Saw-whet Owl, recovered at RMBO’s banding station in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, N.D., this fall, was originally banded 530 miles east at Hawk Ridge near Duluth, Minn., in October 2010. Photo by Keith Bagnall.

With cold weather moving into the north-central U.S., the fall migration owl banding season has come to a close for RMBO. Biologist Nancy Drilling reports that she and her team caught 149 Northern Saw-whet Owls in 51 nights this season. This is compared to 119 Saw-whet Owls in 17 nights in 2012. “Numbers caught per night were low,” Nancy said, “but it was a quality over quantity kind of season.”

A total of 10 owls were “recovered” this fall. A recovery is when a biologist recaptures a bird banded at another banding station or during a different season. These recoveries provide critical data to biologists about migration patterns for birds such as Northern Saw-whet Owls.

This year, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory operated banding stations in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, in the Black Hills and Custer National Forest in South Dakota, and, for the first time, at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area in Nebraska. The map below shows the locations of RMBO’s banding stations in yellow and where the recovered owls were originally banded in pink:

Northern Saw-whet Owl Map

2013 Northern Saw-whet Owl Map (click map to enlarge)

Eight of the recoveries in 2013 happened in North Dakota, including:

  • 1 banded about 1,300 miles east on the shores of Lake Ontario by Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory (PEPTBO) in October 2010
  • 1 banded about 800 miles east at Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve near Two Rivers, Wis., in October 2013
  • 1 banded about 530 miles east near Duluth, Minn., by Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in October 2010
  • 2 banded about 450 miles north in Nisbet Provincial Forest near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in October 2013 (these owls were banded in the same night and showed up in North Dakota a night apart three weeks later)
  • 1 banded about 300 miles north near Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan, by Last Mountain Bird Observatory in September 2012
  • 1 banded in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, N.D., by RMBO in October 2012
  • 1 banded about 100 miles south in Custer National Forest, S.D., by RMBO in July 2013

The owl banded in South Dakota was only a nestling in July, so it is a positive sign to recover the bird later in the fall in North Dakota. The ninth owl recovered was that bird’s sibling. It was also banded in July 2013 in Custer National Forest by RMBO and recovered in the same location about three months later. The 10th owl recovered was banded as a nestling in July 2012 in Custer National Forest by RMBO and recovered near the same location in Custer National Forest this fall. The 11th owl recovered was banded in late October 2013 in North Dakota by RMBO and re-caught three weeks later in Custer National Forest.

This work is part of a long-term study of the migration patterns and local conservation status of Northern Saw-whet Owls, a little known but fascinating species. Thank you to our partners for assisting with this work, including the Medora Foundation for letting us band on their property during the government shutdown, Theodore Roosevelt National Park for letting us band in the park when it reopened and North Dakota Game and Fish for housing our crew.

Watch a video on Northern Saw-whet Owl banding featuring RMBO’s banding crew produced by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department: