MRBO Interns’ Road Trip

A Northern Saw-whet Owl. They are the smallest northern owl, weighing merely 2.8 ounces and standing 8 inches.

As fall migration winds down, we are beginning to transition from early-morning songbird banding to Northern Saw-whet Owl banding. Saw-whets are miniscule, strictly nocturnal owls that reside year-round in southern Canada and parts of the US. Their year-round range covers a wide area in the west and in the east they are found all year only in the northernmost states, but like many other species some individuals do migrate south for the winter. These owls are not known to breed in Missouri but do winter here in low numbers. We will be attempting to capture them as they migrate south in order to add to the limited body of knowledge that biologists have about this uncommon, elusive, and adorable species.
Ryan Davis with a Northern Saw-whet Owl in the wee hours of the morning.
In order to gain experience banding Northern Saw-whet Owls, the MRBO interns took a road trip last week to Hitchcock Nature Area in Iowa, a county park just north of Council Bluffs. During migration the staff there run a hawk watch operation, a raptor banding station, and a Northern Saw-whet Owl banding station. They got to participate in Saw-whet and raptor banding, and worked up a strong appetite to catch more here in north-central Missouri.
Steph Putnam about to release the Red-tailed Hawk captured in a bow net.
The interns arrived on Thursday just before sundown and assisted at the Saw-whet banding station in shifts all night, from 7:00 pm until 6:00 in the morning. After getting a couple hours of sleep, they went back out in the field to observe the raptor banding operation. Both procedures were different from the passive songbird banding that the interns are used to because they are both active techniques and target a specific species or group of species. Saw-whet capture is accomplished with mist nets like those used for songbirds, but recorded Saw-whet songs are played to attract the birds. Raptor banding is even more active; the large predacious birds are lured in by bait and captured with either leg snares or bow nets, which snap open and over the birds once they have landed on or near the bait. It was a successful day for both owl and raptor captures; the interns got to assist in the banding of 13 Northern Saw-whet Owls and observed the capture and banding of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.
All of us here at the Missouri River Bird Observatory are hoping to catch a few owls in Indian Foothills park, a municipal park in Marshall. For the next couple of weeks we will be running our songbird banding station from the afternoon until sundown and then will switch over to Northern Saw-whet banding. Wish us luck! 

2 Responses to “MRBO Interns’ Road Trip

  • Hi there. Just reading your great posting regarding the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. And indeed they are small and they do live up here in Canada. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and this past Friday, my wife and I came upon an adult Saw-Whet Owl out in the bush. This was the first time as birders that we had ever seen a Saw-Whet Owl. Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at:

  • Hi Bob & Jean,
    Dana and I really enjoyed the amazing experience with a Northern Saw-whet Owl that shared with all on your website. Thank you!