Our friend and former nature centre instructor invited us to join her for owl banding one night a few weeks ago. It’s never a guarantee how many owls they’ll catch each hour in the nets, so were we ever a lucky crew to be there the night they caught two the first hour, and two the second! How exciting for us!
The banding station have several locations set up with 12 m x 12 m nets designed with five pockets so that when the bird is caught it will just rest or hang in the pocket until the time the banding crew arrive to remove it (which is every hour at this station.)
The banding specialist has a continuous recorded male Saw-whet owl call playing to attract the owls to the area. The banding specialist, each hour, will carefully remove the owl/s (and this is quite the procedure to watch) and slip it into a draw stringed bag to carry back to the station for weighing, measuring, and holding wings under an ultra violet light to determine the general age of the owl, as well as banding the owl with a number.
Banding helps determine how common a species are to the area, or the longevity of the bird (since they may be caught in later years by other banding stations), also giving data on the species, and determining age, sex, and survival of both young and adult birds. And of course we can’t forget, it is also a tool to help educate the general public, like us, in all the above areas.
And in the mean time, seeing these absolutely adorable creatures up close like this just may have some of the young people in their midst that excited about this kind of work, it’ll encourage them to move forward and join the banding team and research of the natural world in their future years.
Banding birds is not something to come by easily. We learned from Nancy, the banding specialist at this station, one must obtain a banding license, and there are many different kinds to be had. Nancy, who you see here banding a Saw-whet owl, informed us that she has just received her license to band hummingbirds. She is among only nine people in Ontario with the license to band hummingbirds.
New information for me was to learn that one way to determine the general age of a bird is through holding it’s wing out underside to the ultraviolet light. If the light shows fluorescent pink, these are newer feathers, and if it remains white, this means older feathers. We were able to see both a young bird with just fluorescent pink feathers as well as an older bird, with a mix of both in the wingspan. I’m sorry I didn’t get pics of this for you but if you take a trip to the Ruthven website (or to a banding station in spring or fall) you’ll see what I mean.
The children were thrilled to get the chance to hold the Saw-whets after they were weighed (which, by the way, is done by placing them upside down in a paper cup sitting atop a scale…hilarious!) Again, sorry I don’t have pics of that to show you, but you might find those on the website link above.
The owls, after banding, are released into the juniper trees outside the station. They are placed on the branches to get their bearings and settle back into the surroundings after their life among the mortals. We learned they are the prey of the larger Great Horned Owl, so releasing them into the branches of the juniper trees, where they can rest and hide much better, is a safer option than through the banding box inside the station, where the birds banded during the day time are released from.
Thanks to Heidi for all the amazing photography, and for helping to foster a love of nature to the next level in our family!
And thank you sweet Saw-whet owls for letting us into your world for a short while one fine fall evening.
*All photography by Heidi Scarfone and Nancy from the banding station. Please do not re-use.*