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Record owl population for region

Article Date: 2004-12-09   Source: http://www.grandmarais-mn.com   Comments: 0

By Josh Watson

Northern Minnesota, U.S.A. - There is something so spectacular about seeing an owl, especially ones as elusive and sought after as the great gray, northern hawk, boreal and snowy owls.

But what exactly is it about owls that capture most of us? Maybe it's their ability to fly silently on graceful wings, to alight majestically on a limb, or seize a mouse with grapple-like talons.

Or, it could be that they go unseen and can be very difficult to find... then, out of the blue one appears for a few, or sometimes several minutes before leaving you in awe. Whatever it is about owls that excite us, I'm not sure. What I do know, is that this fall and winter is a great time to see many of these owls.

Over the past couple months, great gray, northern hawk and boreal owls have been seen in extremely high numbers across the expanse of Northern Minnesota.

Especially the great gray owls, which are now totaling over 600 different birds reported, which breaks the previous record of 394 from the 2000/2001 winter season.

These birds were either reported sightings from birders around the state or counted on the surveys which are now being conducted to try and count the numbers in several different areas of the state.

About a week or so ago, Jim Lind from Two Harbors, who is among several helping out on these surveys, counted 54 different great gray owls on his route through Lake and St. Louis Counties. There have also been several seen in the famous Sax Zim bog in St. Louis County.

Northern hawk owls are also being seen in high numbers, more than 150 birds, most of which I believe have come from the Sax Zim area.

There have been more than 370 boreal owls banded, most of which have been banded at places such as Hawk Ridge and by Bill Lane in Tofte. This number also exceeds the record of 263 from the 1996/1997 winter.

A recent report from Dr. James Duncan, who spends much of his time studying these birds, indicates that we are experiencing this owl invasion due to a crash in the meadow vole population in northern Canada and Alaska where these birds breed.

This scarcity of these birds' main prey through the spring and summer has forced the birds to drift south in search of food. So basically these birds are starving, unless they are finding enough food among the moist, grassy ditches along many roadsides throughout northern Minnesota which is the vole's prime habitat.

Duncan monitors both the owls and the voles in two locations, one near Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the other near Roseau, Minn., and explains the success or failure rating of these voles is based on weather conditions.
When cold and wet it is hard on the voles and therefore becomes hard on the owls.

The owls did well over the past two years because voles were plentiful. This cycle of the vole population regulates about every three to four years.
This invasion should become better and the birds even more visible as we get deeper into winter and closer to spring.
The reason these birds are concentrated in much of northern Minnesota is because the fact that Minnesota and northern Wisconsin are the southern edges of the peatlands providing the vole's prime habitat and the fact that the large expanse of Lake Winnipeg funnels the owls down.
Right now the best thing that can happen for the great gray owls would be quite a bit of snow, which would be no problem for them. Deep snow is good for voles and therefore good for great gray owls, although it could present a much larger problem for the much smaller boreal owls.

This would probably make it harder for the boreal owls to get food as they can not get down through the depth of deep snow as easily as the great grays.
This invasion is a spectacular thing to experience but is also sad in a way because if the owls are not finding enough food, they are probably stressed and hungry and therefore not doing well.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from http://www.grandmarais-mn.com and placed here for comment. OwlPages.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

Related Articles:
2007-02-01 - Study: Boreal owl numbers crashed post-blowdown by Marshall Helmberger - Northern Minnesota, U.S.A.
2005-02-17 - Owl invasion by James F. McCarty - Northern Minnesota, U.S.A.
2005-01-02 - Rarely spotted owls moving into Minnesota, North Dakota - Northern Minnesota, U.S.A.
2004-12-19 - Owl influx continues in northern Minnesota by Sam Cook - Northern Minnesota, U.S.A.

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