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Rare owl has birders flocking to Bend

Article Date: 2005-02-13   Source:   Comments: 0

By Matthew Preusch

Bend, Oregon, U.S.A. - Die-hard bird-watchers come from as far as the Bay Area to glimpse a northern hawk owl roosting in a subdivision

Kathy Robertson, an administrative assistant from the Bay Area, got in her Toyota pickup at midnight and drove 10 hours to see an owl perched in a tree in a southeast Bend subdivision.

It's hard to say why, she said, but she tried to explain: "It's just adding to the list. Seeing one more bird you've never seen and may never see again."

The northern hawk owl, a rare sight outside of Canada and Alaska, has strayed south and taken up residence in a quiet neighborhood of ranchettes and dream homes.

And with the bird have come the bird-watchers -- a small but steady crowd making their own migration to catch a glimpse of an owl only twice before seen in Oregon.

They carry high-powered scopes and binoculars. They've traveled from Portland, Eugene, Medford, Seattle and beyond since the first sighting two weeks ago.

Some are casual birders, but most are "listers" or "tickers" who keep tallies of the birds they've seen and are always eager to add a rare species to their lists.

Robertson's list, for example, now exceeds 500, though she hasn't made an accurate count lately. Birding fanatics will log 700 species in North America alone.

And her overnight haul from San Francisco last week may sound extreme, but it pales when compared to what some listers will do to see an elusive bird.

"I've known people that, when there's a rare bird, they'll get on a flight, fly thousands of miles, get out, run and see the bird, say 'OK,' get back on the plane and fly home all in the same day," said Dave Ledder, board member of the Central Oregon Audubon Society. "There are people out there that are hard-core."

And what of the bird that has inspired such a following?

It's been seen before only on Sauvie Island, northwest of Portland, in 1973 and again 10 years later at Palmer Junction in Union County, according to Birds of Oregon, a reference book published by the Oregon State University Press.

"For those interested in this sort of thing, it's really not something to be missed," said Chris Carey, wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend.

The northern hawk owl's usual range is limited to the Taiga or Boreal Forests of Canada and Alaska, but it has been known to head south in search of food, mostly small rodents but also other birds in winter.

The owl "does not sit as erect as other owls (and) often perches at the tip of a tree and jerks its tail like a kestrel," according to the Peterson Field Guide of Western Birds, a common reference. Even its call, a "chattering kikikiki," says the field guide, is "more like a falcon than an owl."

The bird's new neighbors in the Sundance subdivision haven't seen this much traffic since the Skeleton fire came through in 1996, burning 18,000 acres and 30 structures.

Not everyone likes the attention. "That one neighbor down there, people come down to his house and want to go to the bathroom," said resident Jerry Brown, pointing to someone who posted hand-written "no trespass" signs and stretched yellow tape across a driveway.

Others like the sudden notoriety. "We're not birders, but apparently it's a really big deal," said Tim Girard, who was out walking his Dalmatian.

After seeing the owl, Robertson, 51, packed her gear and headed north to Prineville, where she hoped to cross another bird, a Blue Jay, off her list. -NT

Before this trip, she spent five days bird watching in the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which was chock-full of "mega-rarities," she said, birds that normally stay in Mexico.

"I got 11 listers down there," Robertson said.

Matthew Preusch: 541-382-2006;

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

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