Northern saw-whet owls on the way
Article Date: 2007-12-05 Source: http://www.newsleader.com
By YuLee Larner
Augusta County, Virginia, U.S.A. - Northern saw-whet owls are rare fall transients and winter residents in Augusta County; we have only seven records, of which four were road kills or injured birds.
To learn more about this rare species, Dr. Clair Mellinger, a biology professor
at Eastern Mennonite University, initiated a saw-whet owl banding station in
2001 at the Highland Retreat Camp, near Bergton, less than one-half mile from
the West Virginia line.
The Bird Banding Lab at Patuxent, Md., supplies the bands and the data is
submitted to them. Dr. Charles Ziegenfus, a professor at James Madison
University, joined Mellinger in this effort in 2003.
Their goal is to open the banding station every night in November, weather
permitting, beginning about 6 p.m. and continuing at least until midnight.
Along a wooded ridge, they erect a row of six 12-meter nets, strung end-to-end.
In the middle of the net row are two speakers that run a tape deck playing the
beep-beep-beep call of the male saw-whet owl. Migrating birds hearing the taped
call fly into the net. They are removed from the nets, taken to a room in the
house where they are measured for weight, wing length, tail length and bill
length. Then the birds are released to continue their migration, or possibly to
remain in our mountains through the winter, especially at high elevations.
This year has been an irruption year for the tiny, robin-size saw-whet owls, at
least in eastern United States. Since opening the Rockingham County banding
station, the season totals range from 49 in 2002 to 157 in 2004. During the
first five days this November, they banded almost 150 owls, a number comparable
to a complete month in previous years. The banding records indicate that
saw-whet owls are more common in the fall in our region than we thought
There are more than 80 banding sites throughout the United States and Canada,
including five in Virginia's Piedmont and Coastal Plain. This station is the
first in our mountains and valley region. This year, Mellinger and Ziegenfus
banded about 220 birds. In addition to newly banded birds, they trapped 13 that
were banded previously at other stations. An amazing fact is that one that was
banded at Mellinger's station on Nov. 24, 2006 was recaptured on Nov. 24, 2007.
Just one of the wonders in the world of birds.
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