Happy OWL-O-Ween


NSWO captured and banded at Stephens State Forest.

by MRBO Educator Emily Wilmoth

I am very fortunate this fall to be Veronica Mecko’s assistant for a “Southern Iowa Northern Saw-whet Owl Extravaganza!” We are traveling across southern Iowa banding Northern Saw-whet Owls at six different sites over the course of about 3 weeks. We are currently at the half way point of our mission.

We began our adventure with a couple nights of training in Harrison County, Missouri on the farm of Liz Carpenter. The very first night we captured two Saw-whets! They were captured at different times, but in practically the exact same spot of the same net. V showed me the ropes while banding the first owl and wasted no time letting me get hands on experience with the second one. We were not quite as lucky catching Saw-whets the second night of training, but we heard a Barred Owl and two Great Horned Owls.

Myself with Owl

Myself and the first NSWO of the season!

Before going to our first official site of the season, we made a pit stop at Hitchcock Nature Center in the Loess Hills. We spent a night owling with hawk and owl bander Sandy Reinken and hawk counter Ryan Johnson. Earlier that day we spent some time in the hawk blind with Sandy and got to see her capture and band a Red-tailed Hawk. The next morning, I was happy to meet Jerry Toll, who is the mastermind behind our owl banding mission. Jerry has a master banding permit and trained Veronica to band owls several years ago.

On October 20th, we officially kicked off the Southern Iowa Northern Saw-whet Owl Extravaganza at Stephens State Forest. We spent 3 nights there and banded a total of 4 owls. I saw my first flat fly parasite come off of one of the owls. It is the only parasite we have found so far this season. We ended up catching 2 bats in out nets and released them safely. We also had a very friendly skunk at our campsite who never once turned its tail on us!

Our second site was Mount Ayr Wildlife Management Area. Veronica has banded owls there for the past 5 years. During our 3 nights at this site we banded 4 owls. One female that we captured was a giant, weighing 111 grams! Most Saw-whets weigh less than 100 grams. Photographer and journalist Ty Smedes came out with us one night to take some pictures. He will be writing an article about Saw-whet banding in Iowa Outdoors magazine.

Our third site was Lake Wapello State Park. We banded a total of 9 owls there. We captured 4 on the first night! The second night however, didn’t get any owls, so we decided to move the nets to a different area of the park. It was a smart move because we captured 5 owls (the season record) our final night at Lake Wapello. We were excited to see a Great Horned Owl as we left the park the next morning.

Aging an Owl

Black light is being used to age an owl. Pink feathers are new and white feathers are old. This is an after hatch year bird.

Jerry Toll received funding from several organizations to make our project possible. They are Des Moines Audubon Society, Iowa Audubon Society, Omaha Audubon Society, and Iowa Ornithological Union. We also received support from Missouri River Bird Observatory. Thank you to all of these great organizations!! Also thanks to Sophie, Brian and Betsy for their hospitality.

In case you lost count, we have banded a grand total of 19 owls so far. Our last three sites are Shimek State Forest, Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, and Lake of Three Fires. We will also spend a week catching owls back in Missouri. I will post another blog to give an update on how the rest of our season turns out!


Happy OWL-O-Ween,









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