November 14, 2006

Indiana Researchers Track Tiny Owls

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Researchers are catching and banding tiny owls to learn more about their comings and goings through Indiana.

One thing they've learned is that there are more Northern saw-whet owls than once was thought. Some 135 of the little raptors were counted in 2003, up from about 20 per year in the 1980s and '90s.

And researchers are hoping to find more of the birds in Yellowwood State Forest in southern Indiana and other sites around the state during the annual Christmas Bird Count. The Indiana stations are part of a network of about 100 in North America run by ProjectOwlNet.

Saw-whets are the smallest owl species in Indiana, measuring 6 to 8 inches long with a wingspan of about 20 inches. The predators, which feed mainly on mice, spend summers in the forests of the northern United States and Canada.

In winter they migrate to the southeastern states, flying after dark and stopping in Indiana forests to rest along the way. But little is known about the birds' habits because of their small size and secretive habits.

Researchers who count the birds set up nets in the woods at night so they can catch the birds, measure them and determine their sex and age, then band and release them. By recapturing owls that were already banded, their movements can be traced.

Since 1954, more than 125,000 have been netted and banded and more than 2,000 have been recaptured.

"We're starting to see patterns emerging, now that 2,000 have been recaptured," said David Brinker, of Assateague Island, Md., who helps analyze results of ProjectOwlNet.

Since 2002, southern Indiana researchers have captured owls that were banded in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, and owls banded at Yellowwood have been recaptured in Ontario.


Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.hoosiertimes.com