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A Big Year for Small Owls

October 24, 2010
Owl bander Chris Volonte prepares to band a Saw-whet Owl. (photo © Rebecca Landry)

Bird bander Chris Volonte prepares to band a Saw-whet Owl. (photo © Rebecca Landry)

Owl bander Chris Volonte is back on the saw-whet beat again in 2010, and she reports that “this season may be shaping up as a ‘big year,’ a phenomenon observed every four years or so by Northern Saw-whet Owl banders, when the number of migrating saw-whets spikes upwards, with hatch-year owls making up the majority of the increase.”

As of October 11, Chris and her volunteers had already captured 60 saw-whets (vs. 13 by the same date in 2009, and 35 by that date in 2008), including a 24-owl night on Saturday October 9.

Several of this year’s birds had been previously banded — two in New York state (amazingly, these two were banded within one day of each other in New York last  October, and then landed themselves in the Pisgah State Park nets on the exact same night a year later!); one banded by Chris and her crew in the same spot last year on December 1 (their last bird of the 2009 season); and one in Pennsylvania last October. This bird was first banded on a night when Pennsylvania saw-whet researcher Scott Weidensaul was placing geolocators on his owls, but, Chris reports, “ours was not one of the lucky ‘backpack owls.’   Scott is awaiting the recovery of his first geolocator owl this season — once the device is in hand again, he can download data that tells him where the owl has traveled over the past year.”  WOW!