Northeast Ontario researchers track owls

A group in the Temiskaming Shores area is helping owl researchers across North America gather important information.

Group in Hilliardton working with North American network

A group in the Temiskaming Shores area is helping owl researchers across North America gather important information.

They track, band and release between 400 and 500 birds a year to help give a clearer sense of the owl population, and many in the community get an up close look at the process of banding saw whet owls.

The head owl bander, Bruce Murphy, showed the crowd at the Hillardton Marsh how the owls are tracked, measured and released.

The research station at the marsh is the most northern owl banding station in northeastern Ontario and the group started banding owls after being contacted by Project Owl Net.

“Who encouraged us to try and catch birds because we’re located in the Boreal Forest,” Murphy explained.

Many of the owls come to that area to breed before moving south, and Murphy said the work being done forecasts how the owls will migrate that season.

‘License plate on a bird’

To catch the birds, nets are placed and recorded calls are played.

Volunteers gently remove the owls from the nets, and place them in a cloth bag to move them inside.

Once there, the owls are weighed, measured and have a small tracking device attached above their feet.

“It’s the best analogy that I know, but I don’t really like it that much,” Murphy said.

“But it’s kind of like putting a license plate on a bird. So wherever this bird shows us, this number will identify that at one point in its life, it was going through the Hillardton Marsh.”

To identify the bird's age, its wings are displayed intol a UV light.

“Somebody figured out awhile back that there’s pigment that’s in owl’s feathers that are only present in young feathers,” Murphy explained.

“So as the bird ages, the molecules that make that pigment leave the owl’s feather.”

The director of the marsh said there are two types of owls the researchers catch and band at the march.

“Other species we target is the boreal owl,” Mike Werner said.

“We have two sites that are playing saw whet owl recorded calls and one site that’s playing a boreal owl call. We don’t target any other larger owls, but occasionally we will catch one because they come in to the call of the smaller owl.”


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