Northern Saw-whet Owl at Project OwlNet Banding, 21 Oct 2015 (photo by Doug Cunzolo)
Did you know that tiny owls are passing through Pittsburgh right now?
Northern saw-whet owls are 7-8″ long, weigh little more than a robin, and have big yellow eyes. They live in wooded habitats where they’re fierce predators of white-footed and deer mice. Though small (and cute) they have “attitude.”
Close up of northern saw-whet owl (photo by Bob Mulvihill)
From mid October to December saw-whet owls migrate at night from their breeding grounds in southern Canada and the northern U.S. to points south. Each one travels alone but not very fast. Individual owls average 10km (6.2 miles) per night and tend to reuse the same route year after year. Every four years the species irrupts in large numbers.
We know this because of Project Owlnet, a continental network of researchers investigating owl migration, founded by owl researcher David Brinker in 1994. In 2011 Brinker analyzed 10 years of fall banding data (81,584 owls banded!) and published his findings in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Click here to read the fascinating results.
Pittsburgh joined Project Owlnet in Fall 2013 thanks to ornithologist Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary. Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night from mid October to early December — weather permitting — Bob and his volunteers set up mist nets and play the owl’s call from dusk to midnight at Sewickley Heights Borough Park.
Bob Mulvihill holds a saw-whet owl for banding (photo by June Bernard)
Pittsburgh’s not a main migration corridor so there are nights when no owls show up but it’s exciting when they do. Thursday October 21 was quite a success as Bob wrote on Facebook,
Our second night of owl banding produced our second owl of the season! And lots of folks on hand to be delighted by it! A few Orionid shooting stars, a continually calling Barred Owl, and a couple of coyotes howling in the distance made for another “Who knew urban ecology could be so wild!?” kind of night.
You’re welcome to attend Pittsburgh’s Project Owlnet. Dress warmly (bring a blanket!) and show up any time. Be sure to read more here before you go!
Now’s the time to see saw-whet owls up close.
p.s. If you can’t make it out to the park you can still support the project by “adopting” a saw-whet owl on the National Aviary website. Click here to read more.
(photo of owl in hand by Doug Cunzolo, photo of owl face by Bob Mulvihill, photo of Bob Mulvihill with owl by June Bernard)